The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell
First Published: October 5, 2017
Expected US Publication: March 6th, 2018
The Silent Companions is a well-crafted historical ghost story told in multiple timelines. It’s an eerie, evocative novel that brilliantly blends the supernatural and the psychological. During the mid-nineteenth-century, a newly widowed young woman is sent to wait out her pregnancy at her late husband’s ancestral English estate. Elsie is dreading being locked away in the ancient house known as The Bridge, with only her husband’s awkward cousin (a former lady’s companion) and a few servants for company. What’s more, the estate itself is less than inviting and her husband’s untimely death is seemingly unexplainable.
We also see Elsie a year or so in the future-very much the worse for wear-as a patient in a mental asylum. A young psychologist is now treating her, and attempting to help her recover her suppressed memories as well as her voice. He provides her with writing instruments so she can write down the fragments she remembers from her time at The Bridge. It becomes increasingly clear that something went terrifyingly wrong. Elsie now stands accused of arson and murder. In order to clear her name, she will need to remember and communicate things she would rather forget.
Things like the painted wooden figures that were discovered in The Bridge’s attic. Known as “Silent Companions,” these figures were especially popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Netherlands. To give you an idea of what they looked like, here is an example:
Pretty creepy right? And one of these companions bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. Soon the figures are turning up in odd places around the house, and the residents of The Bridge become more and more unnerved by their presence. In a quest to learn more about these strange items, Elsie and her cousin-in-law Sarah, uncover an old diary hidden in the attic.
This written account from the seventeenth-century provides the novel’s third timeline. We are introduced to Anne who lived at The Bridge with her husband, sons, and mute daughter Hetta. It was Anne who purchased the companions in a bid to impress the visiting King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. Instead, this royal visit ends in tragedy; a tragedy that seems to be strangely connected with the figures. Back in the Victorian timeline, the companions also seem to be taking on a more sinister air. Elsie can’t shake her feeling of foreboding. Her fears only multiple as the tragedies mount.
Yet, these wooden figures are not the only things hiding in the shadows. There are dark secrets lurking here; family dramas and a history of abuse. Purcell masterfully doles out the suspense. The sense of unease and tension slowly increase as the novel progresses towards its explosive denouement. Not everything is always as it seems however, and The Silent Companions holds onto its secrets up to (and even beyond) the final page.
The Silent Companions had me in its grip from the very beginning. I had trouble putting this one down and couldn’t wait to discover how the plot would unfold. The atmosphere is so thick, I could almost sense it wafting off each page. The setting is vivid and all-encompassing, while the historical details add richness and depth to the narrative. Elsie is a dynamic protagonist, and I was certainly rooting for her to overcome the evil lurking at The Bridge, as well as the demons from her past. I enjoyed the dual-timeline structure and thought there was a good blend of both Elsie’s and Anne’s perspectives.
Laura Purcell has crafted a brilliant gothic novel that has joined the ranks of my favorite haunted house novels. In fact, it reminded me of a cross between The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, with elements of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton thrown in for good measure. I’m sure this will be a novel I will revisit again in the future when I’m craving a creepy read. I’m also looking forward to reading it with fresh eyes in light of the reveal at the end.
For me, this ambiguous ending struck the perfect chord, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. If however, you are someone who prefers clear endings where things are neatly wrapped up, you may be disappointed here. Things are left unanswered for each reader to determine for themselves. As such, The Silent Companions is deliciously unnerving to the very end.
If you enjoy well-written historical fiction with plenty of atmosphere and spookiness, be sure to pick up The Silent Companions. It’s an engrossing read that will have you on the edge of your seat; in addition to glancing over your shoulder and checking around the corners. I couldn’t get enough of this debut novel, and eagerly await Laura Purcell’s future releases.
**A huge thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin Books for the opportunity to read and review this ARC in exchange for an honest review**