Standard gothic fare, from the frisson of cold hands on one’s throat to creepy ghosts.
It’s 1867, and teacher and narrator Eliza Caine is grieving the recent death of her father. She rather impulsively decides to leave her position as a teacher of young girls in London and pursue a governess’s position in Norfolk. The oddness begins when she finds out that the advert she’d responded to in the paper was placed by the previous governess rather than by the parents of the two children at Gaudlin Hall. When Eliza arrives, she finds two precocious children: 12-year-old Isabella and 8-year-old Eustace, both bright and both very strange. Eliza also discovers that there are no parents or guardians in sight, and the people in the village become downright uncomfortable when Eliza brings up this delicate topic. To her dismay, she also discovers that in the previous 12 months, she’s been the sixth governess to tend the children. Gradually and reluctantly, a few acquaintances open up about the goings-on at Gaudlin Hall. Eliza discovers that the first governess, Miss Tomlin, had been brutally beaten by Santina, Isabella and Eustace’s exotic and obsessed mother. In the same attack, she battered her husband beyond recognition, and in a bow to Jane Eyre—and for a time unknown to Eliza—the children’s brutalized father is found to be still living at Gaudlin Hall, tended by an irascible nurse. Although Santina was executed for the murder, her spirit still roams the hall, interfering with Eliza’s attempts to tend to her charges.
Boyne saves a nice surprise for the last word of the novel, but otherwise, this is not edge-of-your-seat scary.