Sent to me by Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 05/10/17
Publisher: Raven Books (Bloomsbury)
Format: Hardback, 384pp
Genre: Ghost Story/Psychological Thriller
Summed up in a word: Uncanny
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when starting The Silent Companions but I was ready to be unnerved, unsettled and freaked out; the full works. Was I unsettled? Hell yes I was 😀 The Silent Companions was an ingenious concept that Laura Purcell crafted into a compelling and nail-biting story of ghosts, evil spirits and fractured minds. I agree that this is mainly a Gothic ghost story but it also reads very much like a psychological thriller too. There is much to discuss so I will move on to my full review below. Highly recommend to fans of Michael J. Malone, Anna Mazzola and Sophia Tobin.
Official Book Synopsis
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…
The Silent Companions is a heck of a read! I was blown away by its multifaceted plot lines, divergent and varied characters and terrifically creepy atmospheres/events. The Silent Companions is a gothic ghost story with a huge dose of psychological thriller thrown in for good measure. I highly recommend to a wide range of readers, as long as you can handle the hair-raising evil presences that roam the halls and minds of the characters.
The narrative The Silent Companions is set out in three sections. It begins in a hospital, Elizabeth Bainbridge is broken, mute and disturbed after a fire at her residence, The Bridge. Brought back from the brink of death, Elsie stands accused of mass murder. The only way to clear her name is write down the truth of what happened and spare herself from the gallows.
“In this place of misrule, everything was upside down. The truth was mad, beyond the realms of any healthy imagination. And that was why the truth was the only thing guaranteed to keep her under lock and key.”
Scared that the truth will prove her madness and the fact that it really happened, Elsie is afraid to face the diary that Dr Shepherd has asked her to write her story within.
“She pulled a page towards her. In the gloom she saw a void of white, waiting for her words. She swallowed the pain in her throat. How could she relive it? How could she bring herself to do it to them, all over again?”
Her writing forms the second and main section of the story set in 1865/1866 at her country residence, The Bridge. Sent there after the death of her husband, Elsie is to reside in the country to deal with the grief of her loss and see out the remainder of her pregnancy. She is not alone, Elsie is accompanied by her husband’s cousin Sarah, a young woman who is also grieving the loss of her only family. The Bainbridge family have a lot of bad blood with the citizen’s of the nearby town ans the house staff are resentful towards Elsie for her ‘convenient’ inheritance. This immediately unsettles Elsie and causes her to retreat within herself.
Elsie is suffering with grief, loneliness and anxiety. Elsie has had a hard life and due to having to raise her younger brother, most of her pain has been repressed. I thought she was the perfect central character for this novel. Brave but also broken, ultimately putting her family first over herself. I can appreciate that a lot. Soon after her arrival at The Bridge, Elsie and Sarah find a locked door, upon entry they discover the diaries of Sarah’s ancestor Anne Bainbridge and also what is known as a Silent Companion.
“‘It’s not a painting.’ Sarah said. ‘That is – it’s painted, but it is not a canvas. It seems to be free-standing.’ She put her book down, pushed forwards and poked her head around the back of the figure. ‘Ah, no. It is flat. But it has a wooden prop, you see?'”
The diaries found within the garret form the third branch of the narrative. Taking place in 1635, they followed the events surrounding Anne Bainbridge and her daughter Hetta, the girl who shouldn’t have been. Anne story is centred around witchcraft, curses and damaged souls. The diaries hold the secrets to where the companions came from and what truly resides within them.
All three narrative are expertly balanced to bring all the creepy, unsettling but also intuitive atmospheres together to make a huge story that will bring out the goosebumps. I appreciated the multi-layered story format that gave me a sort of hindsight-foresight style story that was continuously building up anticipation within each distinctive arc. As I said before, I enjoyed Elsie as the main star, but Sarah was a brilliant addition too. Sarah isn’t all there but she is supportive, and her going through the same ordeal as Elsie made the story flow better and make it a tad more digestible. The stars of the show have to be the Silent Companions though. They straddle what is called the Uncanny Valley, an area of our minds that tries to figure out if something is human or just looks like it. Like a face in a shadow or an android with human features.
Elsie’s story and her interaction with the Silent Companions was surprisingly scary. I read quite a lot of horrors but the way that LP writes about the Companions was superb. They are almost akin to the Weeping Angels in BBC’s Doctor Who. As the story develops, more of them appear, they move around unseen, with their hissing and scratching. Small moments of eeriness make way for scenes of intense paradoxical weirdness over the course of the story. They are pure fascination for me and the fact that LP pulled off their inclusion really well brought this whole novel together for me. I enjoyed that fact that LP went into the lore behind them and fleshed out their existence/creation, worked so well.
Laura Purcell’s writing style was engrossing to say the least. LP has a fantastic career ahead of her. The character development in The Silent Companions was something to admire, you never really know all the sides to one person, they keep surprising you, challenging the reader. I was worried at the start of this novel that it wasn’t going to be for me. I read quite of a lot of psychological thrillers but not that many gothic ghost stories. But LP wasn’t scared to plunge right into the story. I was relieved when the main event of the story kicked in around the p70 mark. Some authors like to take their time to build up atmosphere but LP manages to build up tension using big reveals and precision prose.
Overall I have given The Silent Companions a 4.5/5 star rating because it was a brilliant, fascinating and 100% pure creepiness. I haven’t given it the full rating because of the slow start but in the end I was glad to have read it.I cannot recommend it enough to those who love a ghost story, psychological thriller or an eerie and horrific tale that will unsettle you no end. I can’t wait to read LP’s next outing in 2018.
About Laura Purcell
Laura Purcell writes biographical fiction about the Georgian Queens and ‘spooky’ Victorian novels. She lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Laura is represented by Juliet Mushens at Caskie Mushens Literary Agency.
THE SILENT COMPANIONS will be published by Bloomsbury in October 2017 (US Penguin, March 2018).
QUEEN OF BEDLAM (2014) and MISTRESS OF THE COURT (2015) were published by Myrmidon and are available from all book retailers.