When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure–a silent companion–that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.
There’s nothing better than a hearty ghost story to keep you on your toes. Well, maybe an actual ghost, but that is not the point here…
Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions seems to be one such ghost story, but on reading it, this novel turns out to be so much more than just a ghost story. With the lines “The Turn of the Screw meets The Little Stranger” printed on the back cover, there was no doubt that this would be a chilling read, and definitely not one to read home alone in the early hours of the morning (not that that stopped me from doing so – which is now something I highly regret).
The Silent Companions focuses on the character of Elsie Bainbridge. Recently widowed while pregnant with her first child, she moves to The Bridge, the old country estate she was meant to move into with her late husband only months later. With the house isolated from the closest village, and only the cold mannered servants and her late husband’s strange cousin for company, Elsie is dreading the thought of having to move there at all. To make matters worse, the villagers are less than welcoming to her as she travels through the village to get to The Bridge. Elsie soon realises that not only does the village not have the warmth and friendliness she expected, but also that The Bridge isn’t really that homely at all either. It isn’t long though before ‘unfriendly’ becomes rude, and ‘less than homely’ becomes sinister, leaving Elsie with nowhere to turn. With the introduction to some startlingly realistic second-hand wooden sculptures of different children to the house, Elsie thinks that the place will feel less empty, and though she isn’t wrong here, neither is she completely right. As the Companions fold themselves into her life, there is something much darker at work in the house which is not only dredging up the lives of the previous occupants of The Bridge but also uprooting the normality of Elsie’s life forever.
This novel jumps between three voices and points of view, two of which are Elsie’s but at two different points in her life. Those being the present, and Elsie’s experiences at The Bridge in 1865. This does mean that you basically know Elsie’s fate from the start of the novel, but these parts are written in such a way that not everything is revealed too early but you are given teasers of what is to come for the Elsie of 1865. Cleverly though, this allows you to become completely caught up in the mystery and horrors of the how and the why, rather than becoming too focused on the outcome. The third voice is that of the words of a diary from an occupant of The Bridge in 1635, found in a once locked room of The Bridge itself. Though at first the pages of the diary feel like they don’t quite fit into the story, it isn’t long before you make chilling connections between the events of the past and those in Elsie’s time at the Bridge. Though the jumping between voices threw me a little at first, there was a point where everything clicked, and you could see where all the pieces fit together in a chilling climax and then conclusion to Elsie’s story.
Purcell’s The Silent Companions is one of those novels which is a little slow to start but even more so, intriguing enough to keep you wanting to know more. It doesn’t take long though for it to become the gripping and spooky read you expect it to be. As a main character, Elsie is honestly not one of my favourites. Despite this, she carries the story very well, and through her eyes you can feel her confusion and terror as everything falls apart around her. The story’s close is tied together nicely with a perfect, and rather daring twist which makes you question what you’ve just read but somehow still leaves you satisfied. Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions is a cleverly crafted novel and is definitely worth reading for anyone who wants to delve into something which may leave you a little shaken, and maybe even haunt you as well.