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Feb 26, 2018

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Penguin Books March 6 2018, 315 pages
(first published in UK by Raven Books/Bloomsbury)
Review copy provided via NetGalley

When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband's crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting...

When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband's awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure--a silent companion--that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition--that is, until she notices the figure's eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect--much like the silent companions themselves.

Channeling tones of Daphne Du Maurier, Laura Purcell's Gothic tale of The Silent Companions is a must read for those who enjoy feeling like they are being watched. Prepare for goosebumps as you visit the English estate of the Bainbridge family with Elsie as she prepares for her upcoming lying in as a widow. The house is a decaying estate set amongst the poorest of the villages complete with rising mists and clawing vines. This is where Elsie's new husband has died, and is Elsie's first visit. Mystery surrounds the death of her husband but Elsie is more concerned with the scratching sounds in the night and the mannequins that seem to appear out of nowhere.

The novel does a bit of a time slip from Elsie's late 1800's period to the Charles I 1600's through the diary of Anne Bainbridge once Elsie's companion Sarah Bainbridge begins to read her ancestor's diaries. Elsie and Sarah attempt to thwart the evil nuances that follow them but as it happens the novel begins as Elsie is in an asylum and so we know right away what poor Elsie's fate is. The diary speaks of Sarah's daughter Henrietta Maria and the herbs and tisane that were used to conceive Henrietta Maria - alluding to the evil beginnings of the child who was born with a shriveled tongue.

The back and forth of the narrative of Elsie's past and her current state and then the developing story told through the diaries are well presented and easy to follow. The story carries the atmospheric tones throughout as the reader tries to understand why all the evil events are happening around Elsie. I read the novel quickly and still it stayed with me after the last page perhaps wishing the book could have been a bit longer. I would have really liked to read more from the 1600's plot line and the point of view of Anne Bainbridge and her family. There was a lot of time spent to demonstrate Elsie's time in the mental health unit before we could really understand why she was there in the first place.

After reading The Silent Companions it was hard to decide what to read next -- I didn't really want to close that book and move on. I am intrigued enough to follow the author to see what tale she spins next and happy to learn that she has a Georgian Queens series that I can put on my to be read list.

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