What If Statues Came To Life?: A Review of The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Hello, Book Nerds! Happy Spooky Season and welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
I bring you another atmospheric horror novel today. As long term readers of RHRML know, I love a good haunted house tale. So guess what I have for you today? Yes that’s right, an atmospheric haunted house novel. October is one of my greedy months okay! I am going to read and review what I want to read and review during the best month of the year. And I want to read and review something fairly similar to last week.
So please welcome to the stage The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell!
As always, a spoiler alert is in order; I’m very good at spoiling the entirety of a book. I also must issue a trigger and content warning. There are mentions of animal mutilations in this novel. Please be aware of that before going in as they don’t occur till over halfway through the novel. Please also be aware that the main character suffers from a traumatic pregnancy loss. This event is also one that occurs fairly late in the novel and cannot be avoided. The main character has a history of being abused as well. Finally, a suicide does occur within these pages. Please read this book at your own risk. Now let’s get to the synopsis.
Newlywed Elsie Bainbridge quickly becomes newly widowed Elsie after her husband dies from what is believed to be a heart attack. As this is the Victorian era, our grieving main character is sent away to the country to privately grieve and also give birth to the Bainbridge heir. Unbeknownst to her, the country estate that she is being sent to is a dreary place in disrepair. The local villagers are cold and hostile towards her, and the few servants the manor has are resentful of the interloper.
The only person Elsie has is her late husband’s awkward and meek cousin by the name of Sarah. The two women have nothing in common, but they’re each other’s only company. Human company that is. Locked away high up in the garret of the house, behind a door without a key, is a wooden figure. An old, wooden figure that has been there for hundreds of years and long forgotten; until Elsie and Sarah discover it. The painted figure is moved downstairs and with it comes terror.
The longer this figure sits in the light, then more similar figures arrive. Not only that, these figures seem to move on their own. No one knows where these figures keep coming from. No one knows why they exude such malevolence. One thing is clear though, the residents of the manor are terrified, and it isn’t long before tensions run high and bad things begin befalling those in the manor.
The TL;DR of this post is I wanted to like this book. The atmosphere is phenomenal! It truly is a creepy, fog laden, Victorian gothic, which I absolutely adore, but the story is so boring. This was my second read and neither time did the story itself excite me.
I want to start this review with my thoughts on how the novel is structured. There are three main timelines: the past, the present, and the future. The past is the most interesting part of the story. It’s set in the 1600’s and is the origin story for the wooden figures, or companions as they’re known in the text. What I’m dubbing the present is the main story where Elsie is at the country manor. The future is set just after the events of the present and features our main character in an asylum where she’s recounting what occurred at the manor to her doctor via writing as she has lost the ability or has chosen not to speak.
I hated the future parts. There’s just something that’s so stale about them. The level of detail isn’t there. I could not care less about these chapters. To me, they did not add anything. I felt taken out of the main story every time they popped up. The only time they came across as relevant was at the very end of the book for the final reveal. Even then, I was left confused and relieved the novel was over.
The past parts were good though. In my opinion, those were the best and most interesting parts to read. That was where all the important clues and details were located. The drama was in this section, and the tea was hot! Give me a novel on this section alone and I would be happy.
That leaves the present. The present was not the worst, but certainly not the best. Simply put, it was adequate. Sure, there was tension, there was that glorious gothic atmosphere, there was a great descent into madness, but there was no horror. The Silent Companions is a hundred percent a slow-burn horror novel, but I never felt the terror it so desperately wanted me to. The Silent Companions wants to be the supernatural Rebecca so desperately but it falls flat.
On the positive side, there is a wonderfully done descent into madness. Our poor main character Elsie is grieving the loss of her husband. Then she becomes isolated and odd things begin occurring. Then she traumatically losses her unborn child. Then even more strange events happen. It’s the perfect formula for a descent into madness. While readers know that something supernatural is occurring, it does feel natural and believable that the side characters want to put Elise in an asylum by the end; I hate to say it, but it’s true. Elsie’s descent into madness is well written and a highlight of this novel.
I still have two glaring issues though. First: the supernatural aspect and truth about what’s occurring in the manor is confusing. Even after reading this book twice, I don’t fully understand the ending. I think it has something to do with witchcraft, but it’s never made clear. It’s even worse considering the villain was evil for the sake of being evil yet their motivations were never mentioned once and because of that their evil doings then come across as a temper tantrum. A severe temper tantrum but a temper tantrum nonetheless. Everything about the villain/supernatural aspect/ending just makes me scratch my head. I have so many questions and absolutely no answers.
The second issue is the main character herself. Elsie sucks. She’s terrible. She’s born to a working class family and marries a wealthy man. Now, while her family owned the factory she grew up in and worked at, one would think she’d be friendly towards the servants in the manor as well as the working and lower classes in general. Alas that is not the case. Once she married a rich man she changes for the worst. Materialistic, snobbish, rude, demanding, thinks she’s better than others because of her newly found station; the list goes on. Elsie is simply a horrible character. As a reader, I want to relate to her in some way or feel sympathy towards her; I want to connect with her. I couldn’t though. Yes, being widowed and losing a child is horrible, but outside of that I didn’t care what happened to her. Just because she has a traumatic backstory I’m supposed to care for her? It doesn’t work that way. Never once did I root for her.
TL;DR this book has a beautiful, gothic atmosphere but practically everything else falls flat. Even after a few years, my taste has not changed enough for me to call this book good. It still left me with more questions than answers.
With that I shall bid you all adieu. I will be back next week with another great post. Hint, it’s something that I haven’t done on the blog in over a year. Get ready! It’s gonna be a good one!
Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.