How to describe this novel? Spooky, mysterious? A tale of witchcraft and trickery or malicious exploitation and fraud? The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell starts with a woman in an asylum. Mute, she is given chalk and a slate with which to communicate. What follows is her account of the Bainbridge family and their country home, The Bridge.
From the beginning until the end, we do not know who to believe. The story is told in three strands – a woman in an asylum, accused of murder; a young widow who arrives at her husband’s family home, pregnant and vulnerable; and a couple excitedly prepare for a royal visit by Charles I. What unfolds is a complicated story. Purcell handles the many threads well although I would have preferred a clear delineation with each new section marked by date.
Elsie, the daughter of a match factory owner in London, is a survivor. She supported her mother after her father was killed in a ghastly workplace accident, she supported her younger brother Jolyon as their mother also fell ill. And when Jolyon brings a new investor for the factory the siblings, now jointly own, Elise marries Rupert Bainbridge. Odd things start to happen after Rupert dies soon after the marriage and Elsie goes for the first time to The Bridge. Exploring the rundown dusty house when she hears a noise at night, Elsie finds a locked door and in the room behind is a wooden stand-up figure of a girl. From this point, odd things start to happen, getting odder and more frequent as the tale progresses. The reader doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust. It feels as if everyone might be lying for their own ends, or perhaps the villagers are right and the house is riddled with witchcraft. But concrete things keep happening which cannot be denied.
This is a strange, unsettling read.
Read more about Laura Purcell here.
If you like this, try:-
‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters
‘The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey
‘The Witchfinder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown
‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell [UK: Raven Books] Buy now
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