Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Opening sentence: “The new doctor took her by surprise.”

When a book comes with a quote on the cover from the legendary Susan Hill (‘Terrific. The perfect setting, great build-up, chilling. What more could you want?’), you know you’re in for a great read. The Silent Companions was Laura Purcell’s debut novel and is a superbly atmospheric Victorian gothic horror tale. Told in a very sophisticated way, this book doesn’t play for cheap thrills, the tension and unsettling air is built up gradually and you feel on edge (in a great way) while reading, “Something was coming for her, as surely as the tide inching up the shore. But it would not come quickly. No. They enjoyed making her run.”

This story is told by Elsie Bainbridge in two different time frames, we first meet her in St. Joseph’s Hospital, she is injured and also suspected of starting a fire that killed several people but has become mute so can’t fully tell her story. A psychologist suggests she writes down what happened and it’s through this narrative we learn that Elsie found herself pregnant and newly widowed in 1866, just as she moved to her husband’s family estate, The Bridge. This old, isolated manor house is the scene for the awful events that befall Elsie; from hearing unidentifiable noises at night to discovering diaries from her ancestors who dabbled in witchcraft and the possession of inanimate objects known as silent companions. These are wooden cut-outs painted to look like people and originally used to trick people into thinking unoccupied places had people in them – read more about them here – and are genuinely one of the creepiest tools used to convey menace I’ve come across in a ghost story. I found myself running up the stairs and quickly flicking on the bedroom light just after reading a particularly tense scene: If a book evokes a visceral reaction in me, then it’s doing its job! As Elsie’s story reveals itself, the tension never lets up and the all-important ending is fiendishly brilliant.

A few months ago I read The Corset (Purcell’s second book) which I adored (I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my reads of the year) so The Silent Companions had a high bar to reach up to – and it almost did. I’m not by any means saying The Silent Companions isn’t a fantastic read – because it is – it’s completely personal preference and just to let you know that Laura Purcell has more than one superb book under her belt! I’m so pleased to have discovered a new author, I love Laura Purcell’s signature tone, she executes her stories perfectly and gothic horror is a genre I really enjoy. I’m already itching to read her next book. Bone China is described as a, ‘Daphne Du Maurier-esque chiller set on the mysterious Cornish coast…’ Sounds perfect!

/ Published by Raven Books 2017

/ 364 pages

/ Rating: 4/5

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