|4 out of 5 stars|
Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls...
But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.
For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.
I’m sure that ever since human-like hominids have had both fire and the ability to speak, we’ve been telling each other creepy stories and sleeping uneasily afterwards. These tales are best shared around a campfire, to simulate the ancient experience—when fires and candles cast flickering light and we were free to imagine all kinds of weird creatures around us in the dark.
Even with modern electricity, I found myself sometimes unwilling to read this book after dark—I’m entirely too suggestible when I’m tired. For me, it was the ambiguity that was creepy. Are the ghostly presences real? Or are they the product of a wild imagination? Do people besides the governess ever truly see them? Who knows who has seen what?
The lack of direct communication is definitely an issue. Since it’s not polite to question too directly or too persistently, many necessary questions go unanswered. Social status interferes as well, with the housekeeper feeling reluctant to push the governess to answer questions and the governess being unwilling to trust the housekeeper entirely. There is also the issue of the scandalous relationship of the phantoms—serving man and governess, crossing the social divide to the extent that she ends up pregnant. Especially since there are hints dropped that the current governess wouldn’t mind a chance at romancing her employer. (An excellent reason, on his part, to send her to the country and forbid all contact—but if he’s as successful as it is implied that he is, he didn’t get that way through ignoring problems. Very contradictory).
The unanswered questions create the tension—do the children see the phantoms? Or are they tormenting the new governess? Is this a case of mental unbalance or of the supernatural? Despite the convoluted writing (which sounds awkward to my modern ear), it certainly kept me reading (during daylight hours).