Title: The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Gothic Ghost Story
Source: Best Sellers
Favourite Quote: “Confusion flickered over his features. She recalled it well: the exact moment she had started to doubt her own senses”
I was browsing around Waterstones when I came across The Silent Companions on the shelf in the recommendations section. I was immediately drawn into the cover so I scanned the back and knew that I had to pick this book up as my next read. Little did I know how creepy the story actually was. I’m not a huge fan of childrens dolls or the little movable figurines on the ‘it’s a small world’ ride at Disneyland. I think it’s the eyes that do it for me, it’s just too creepy. So I had a bit of a fall out with this book for this very reason – don’t get me wrong, I still read it all the way through, I couldn’t put the thing down as I needed to know how it ended. It then kept me up all night scanning my room for little wooden figurines.
The story begins with a clip of the present Ms Elsie Bainbridge, a mute, scarred woman in an asylum; St Joseph’s, being questioned by her new doctor, Dr Shephard after being accused of murder. She’s managed to block out the last year of her life, and would prefer to stay in the asylum, refusing any help. She plays an act of being medically unstable to have her own room in isolation. To keep herself safe.
We are transported back before the fire, Elsie is newly married, pregnant.. and newly widowed. She’s on a journey to her late-husband’s country house, The Bridge, for a new start with her new spinster relative on her husband Rupert’s side, Sarah. They soon discover that the manor house isn’t what they expected; no professional help besides the housekeeper, Mrs Holt, all rooms covered in dust sheets, and rumours that the house is cursed by the local villagers from mysterious deaths that have occurred within the property. Elsie begins to hear hissing noises that keep her up at night, determined to find the cause of the annoyance, she finds that the noises are coming from the garret at the top of the house, which has apparently been locked up for years.
‘It was then that she heard it: a low rasp, like a saw against wood. She went rigid. Had she really heard that? The sense could play tricks in the dark. But then it came again. Hiss. Hiss. She started up, every inch of her electrified. Hiss. Teeth against wood. Scraping. The darkness was absolute – her eyes refused to adjust. It wasn’t like London; there were no street lamps outside. She was forced to inch along, feeling her way forwards. Ears tensed for the sound. The very stillness felt heavy – charged, as if it were waiting.’
When they discover that the garret door is suddenly open, Elsie and Sarah explore and find a 200 year old diary of Sarah’s ancestor, Anne Bainbridge, and a ‘companion’. A wooden painted figure that shows a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. They bring the wooden figure out of the garret and not long after, they being to find companions all over the house. At first she thought it might be the servants playing tricks by moving them around, until she realises they are scared of them too, no one knows where they came from and no one dares to touch them. Both Sarah and Elsie start to see things that aren’t there within the property, particularly around the nursery, they know something isn’t right so they go to find answers in the old diary.
“‘I – it’s not -” Words swamped into her mouth, but she could not form any of them. How could it be? Striding over to the crib, she took hold of the sheet. ‘Right here, there was the most beautiful…’ She gasped. As the sheet slithered away, a musty smell of camphor welled up. The shape of the crib endured, but the delicate draperies were moth-eaten and stained. ‘I didn’t think the girls would trouble it much,’ Mrs Hold said carefully. ‘It’s a sad place. Not opened except for a sweep every few months, since the little ones went.’
Elsie stared at her. The nursery had been glorious. She could not have imagined the things she had seen. Sarah was there too – she had pushed the horse.”
Within the diary, we’re given a glimpse of the past to the ancestors Anne and Josiah Bainbridge, a family living in The Bridge 200 years previously, preparing for a visit from the royal family. Straight away you know Anne has special abilities of a sort, she knows when her husband arrives home before anyone can see him in sight and you know that she has conceived another child even though it was impossible, just so she could have a daughter, Hetta. The young girl is mute and has always been treated differently by her father Josiah, as if he knew she wasn’t meant to be born. Hetta spends all of her time in the garden surrounded by her plants and herbs, little does anyone realise how her passion could be disastrous for all, for her knowledge for plants isn’t all that Anne has passed down onto her daughter.
“She sprang to her feet and came to take my hand. Her palm was dirty, but without sweat. The humidity that frazzled me and the garden did not touch her.”
The book overall is a fantastic story that jumps from 1635, 1865 and 1866 with Mrs Bainbridge in hospital trying to forget it all. It’s full of history, witchcraft, haunted paintings and a cursed family’s past that will forever live on. You will not be able to put this story down as it wraps you into it’s nerve wracking chilling suspense when it leads you to the truth about the companions and what they want from the estate.
You don’t know whether you are experiencing the workings of Elise’s mind turning slowly distorted with the loss of her husband, or whether something supernatural is actually going on within The Bridge. Laura Purcell did a fantastic job and creating the perfect creepy setting with brilliantly written characters, I wouldn’t mind checking out her other works! I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good gothic ghost story!
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. For 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…