Miscellanea, Reviews

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

We’re all scared of something. Well, most of us, myself included. For those of you who say you aren’t scared of anything, I call bullshit you can skip this post. My something is actually somethings. I’m scared of several things – spiders, flying, aliens, garbage disposals, and lawnmowers. You know – the usual stuff. I can pinpoint my fear of lawnmowers to one fateful night when my mother thought I was sleeping (I wasn’t) and I inadvertently watched The Lawnmower Man*. I must have been 6 or so. I’ve never forgotten that movie, though I’m sure Pierce Brosnan wishes I would. He now has the dubious honor of having ruined not one, but two Stephen King adaptations. As for my healthy fear of aliens, I credit the greatest television show (for the first five, arguably six seasons) ever produced – The X-Files.

(And no, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad. It’s been hell tuning out all the spoilers this week.)

Possession, abduction, plane crashes, cancer, killer bees, the black oil. Those aliens were not the friendly sort. Add in the fact that I had a lot of nosebleeds as a child and you can understand why I’m still frightened. I won’t share at what embarrassingly young age I started watching The X-Files, but I was still a few years shy of hitting double digits. I was young, impressionable, and completely unaware of wholesome shows like Little House on the Prairie. Which, let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched anyway. It’s worth noting that a later viewing of Alien and Aliens did nothing to alter my original impression of extraterrestrial beings. The most ridiculous part of my fear is that I still actively worry about aliens. Do they exist? If they do, do they even care about us? More importantly, do I wanna know?

(Go ahead, click that last link, I’ve had that song stuck in my head for DAYS, the least I can do is pass that pleasure on to you. You can thank me later. Okay, so you probably won’t thank me, but you will be able to commiserate with me. The answer to the question is no, I absolutely do not want to know if aliens exist, but I want to believe.)


Considering the above, it would stand to reason that I might be wary of ghosts. In fact, it’s quite possible my house is haunted. This is according to my brother, who watches my house when I travel; I’ve never felt any malevolent entities floating around (see his ghost evidence here and here, then see why we’re friends here). However, surprisingly enough, I’m not. I love a good ghost story. I particularly love reading a good ghost story in October. Recently I had the opportunity to review ‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne – a striking homage to the classic nineteenth century ghost story – and I admit to going in with unreasonably high expectations. I was not disappointed.


Young schoolteacher Eliza Caine, within the span of a week, loses her father, her home, and her employment. Distraught over the loss of her only family, Eliza hastily replies to an oddly worded advertisement in the paper. Gaudlin Hall is looking for a governess. She is hired sight unseen and ventures to the north of England to begin her new life. But her new country home is not as idyllic as it seems, nor are the children as innocent as they appear. Something unseen is haunting Eliza’s every move and if she wants to survive, she will have to discover the sordid truth about her new home and its occupants.

‘This House is Haunted**’ by John Boyne is everything a classic ghost story should be. With its Dickensian prose, disappearing servants, crotchety groundskeeper, mysteriously absent owner, precocious children, wary townsfolk, dense fog, and howling wind, it’s like a cross between ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jane Eyre’, and ‘Turn of the Screw’. If there was a checklist of required elements to creating a “classic” ghost story, Boyne would have hit every single one. From paling as a result of distressing news to the mysterious attic inhabitant, Boyne walks a fine line between homage and parody with excellent results. He does not attempt to add anything new to the genre and the novel is not “serious” despite its subject matter. The novel affectionately uses every cliché there is, yet Eliza is likable and not simply a caricature of a plain Victorian heroine. Is it predictable? Yes. Is it formulaic? Yes. Is it wonderfully atmospheric? Yes. Would I highly recommend it? Yes, with the caveat “not for highbrow literary purists”. From its opening line (“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.”) to its closing twist, it’s pure Gothic fun. 4/5. Read it and have a good time – it’s popcorn fiction***.

Now I am curious. I want to know what scares you. Aliens? Ghosts? Zombies? Captain Trips? Do tell (if you’d like). Or, if you prefer to keep it simple, tell me if you like ghost stories.


In the novel, Mrs. Sutcliffe’s tea shop serves the best custard tarts in the village, so that is what I’m recommending. I’ve never actually had a custard tart, but it can’t be bad. Right?

*Although my lawnmower fear primarily stems from that movie, there was one rather gruesome scene from the otherwise unfortunate The Happening that has stuck with me in vivid detail.
**I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion,
***If that phrase hasn’t been used before in this sense, I’m coining it now. It’s a good waste of time.


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