‘You could not explain fear; you could only feel it, roaring through the silence and striking your heart still’
Rating: 4 stars
Read: 5 November, 2018 – 9 November, 2018
As usual, I’m a little late to the party. I’ve only just got round to reading Laura Purcell’s beloved novel, The Silent Companions. It received instant and widespread critical acclaim when published, and was chosen as the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. I can definitely see why now that I’ve read it. It’s the tale of Elsie Bainbridge who is sent to her late husband’s crumbling country estate to see out her pregnancy. It isn’t an ordinary house, though, oh no. For inside her new home lies mysterious wooden figures – the Silent Companions – who bear resemblance to likes of Elise and her dead husband…
First off, I have to say, this was bloody brilliant. I don’t tend to enjoy spooky tales – they fail to scare me and often become predictable. Not this, though. I found the story genuinely interesting, and the spookiness wasn’t overdone. It was just right. Purcell had the discomfort of a scary story, an interesting plot and a beautiful writing style. I couldn’t get enough of it, so much so that I’m desperate to get my hands on Purcell’s new novel, The Corset, but I’m holding back until the paperback is released (who else hates hardbacks?).
I loved the framing of the narrative – it reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which is very similar to this actually. The novel starts with St. Joseph’s Hospital where Elsie is being detained for murder. It is unclear whether she is sane or not. We piece together her story in a number of ways, from 1) internal monologues from her, 2) a written account of her history, and 3) snippets from an ancestor’s diary. All these add to a larger picture. We become the doctor as we try to solve the mystery alongside him – is she a victim or the perpetrator? Was she mad or did she actually see the companions?
It’s these kind of questions that work so well in spooky stories.
Stuff starts to get creepy when the line between imagination and reality becomes blurred. There is something inherently scary about this because it could happen to anyone. Factors like pressure, stress and grief can play tricks on your reality. Does this mean it’s not real? It’s that uncertainty that makes reading these kind of spooky stories so attractive. It allows us to feel less alone, yet, at the same time, allows us to distance ourselves away from it because it isn’t directly happening to us.
I just want to mention how brilliant Purcell is at writing neo-Victorian novels. The Silent Companion was the perfect blend. It was reminiscent of the Victorian period, of the Victorian ideals and of the Victorian literary style. Yet it had a modern take on it. Purcell had the room to explore more radical and unconventional aspects of society and of women. This had everything that Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent was missing. I don’t tend to enjoy neo-Victorian novels, but this managed to tick all the boxes. I know it’ll be a novel that everyone can enjoy.
All-in-all, a brilliant read. I would definitely, one hundred percent recommend it. I can’t wait to read more of Purcell’s writing!
Have you read The Silent Companions? What did you think of it? Loved it or hated it? I’d love to discuss it with you in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X