Review: Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions

silent companions

Newly pregnant, suddenly widowed Elsie Bainbridge arrives at her late husband’s derelict country estate shrouded in grief and dreading her new life away from London. Her husband’s somewhat taciturn cousin hardly helps to alleviate her misery, and Elsie’s heart is heavy as she begins to prepare her new home for her unborn child. But little does she know that the harsh words of unfriendly servants and suspicious villagers will soon pale into insignificance. For when she follows the strange noises in the night to the garret on the third floor, she will unwittingly unleash over two hundred years of horrifying history, and spark a spiralling series of horrific events that will change the course of her life forever. It all begins with a musty old diary and a sinister, painted wooden figure that has a tendency to wander…

Mist prowling, silver rain lashing down, a funeral in a dilapidated church and a house that’s crumbling around its inhabitants—Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions is a deliciously Gothic tale steeped in classic Victorian style. Familiar and yet surprising, this is a truly unsettling ghost story quite unlike any other in that it is a subtle and yet profound exploration of the human psyche, as well as an unnerving delve into the supernatural.

‘Perhaps it was grief making her see things.’

Purcell effortlessly blurs the boundaries between disturbing reality and the fantasies of lunacy, continuously posing the unsettling possibility that the monster at the heart of these horrific events is, actually, Elsie. It is an unnerving exploration of the psychological composition of our beings and a brutal reminder of the insufficiency of reason. If the silent companions really are invested with a hideously malevolent spirit, we must allow for the existence of phantoms which we are usually so quick to deny as the figments of primitive folklore. If it is Elsie who carries out these unreasonable acts without even realising, we must face the horrifying reality that the brain is able to act outside the will of the individual to commit unspeakable crimes born of the darkest of memories.

‘The face before her eyes was her own but she felt no kinship with it. Go away, she wanted to scream. Go away, I am afraid of you.’

Is grief making Elise see things? Or are we as humans so desperate to believe that reality cannot be so irrational, so unreasonable that we cling to the notion that the horrific happenings at The Bridge cannot possibly being the workings of the otherworldly? These are the unsettling questions which we are forced to face throughout this eerie tale of witchcraft, murder and wooden figures which crop up in the most unexpected of places.

It is deeply satisfying to have found a novel that stays true to a hallowed genre and yet remains so captivating in its originality. The Silent Companions is the perfect spooky read for lovers of Gothic fiction and anyone looking for a fright on a dark winter’s night. If you’ve read it (and you really ought to), let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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