About The Book
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.
This book is fantastically creepy and wonderfully unsettling. Set in the mid 1800’s The Silent Companions opens with Elsie Bainbridge meeting her new psychiatrist, Dr Shepherd at the mental hospital in which she is incarcerated for murder. She is mute, burned beyond recognition and has no recollection of the events that led to her disastrous situation. We are then taken back in time and introduced to a different, younger Elsie who is both pregnant and recently widowed and has retired to the country to live in her deceased husband’s family house, The Bridge. What follows is a tale which oozes suspense and terror with a gradual building of tension that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Laura Purcell uses some of my favourite narrative techniques in The Silent Companions to great effect. Time jumps, unreliable narrators and multiple viewpoints all build a picture of a crumbling mansion surrounded by fog, a house which is gloom-filled and desolate with a mysterious locked garret at the top of the house. Once ensconced within the house Elsie is tormented by an odd hissing noise whilst the maids find words written in the dust in the abandoned nursery. When the garret is opened they find diaries belonging to an ancestor from the 1600s and strange wooden creatures painted to look human whose eyes seem to follow Elsie, and the other inhabitants of The Bridge around the room. These Silent Companions look unnervingly real; one looks like a young Elsie, another like a young gypsy boy whilst a third is an old woman. They multiply, and as danger and death reaches The Bridge new companions appear that shake Elsie to her core.
The diary belongs to Anne Bainbridge, an ancestor who along with her husband Josiah are preparing for a visit by the King and Queen. Anne dabbles in white magic and after both losing her sister and having difficulty conceiving she concocts a potion to enable pregnancy and gives birth to a girl who is mute. The visit by the King and Queen sets in motion a chain of events that has consequences for subsequent generations of the Bainbridge family. The diary of Anne was a great touch – I really connected with this and it was written with a different tone entirely which gave a different voice to the terror.
The Silent Companions is a wonderful gothic novel which is reminiscent of some of my favourite classics. It has tones of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre – particularly in its exploration of the presumed frailty and madness of women. I loved that the main characters and voices were women and that the book examined their power and position in society in the 1600s and 1800s. Elsie is a ballsy, gutsy character and as I came to know her I really sympathised that her only chance of being saved from the hangman’s noose is to gain assistance from a man when she has lived her life being the one in control.
This is a perfect book for Autumn, a word of caution though, make sure that you are not alone when you read it. I was creeped out on more than one occasion and the descriptions of the silent companions are so realistic and lifelike that I was frequently fighting off goosebumps. It is wonderfully written and multi layered with oodles of suspense and tension.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Raven Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury Books for the advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review, it was my pleasure. The Silent Companions is available now and can be bought at all good book shops or online.