From Mansions to Madness
Remember my review of The Poisoned Thread from a few months ago? Well, since then, I have had the pleasure of reading two more of Laura Purcell’s novels. Let’s start with The Silent Companions, the first of her novels. Purcell portrays her protagonist, Elsie, as an unreliable narrator. I mean let’s face it, the story begins with our heroine in an asylum having committed some sort of heinous crime where she is disfigured. She doesn’t talk and she doesn’t sleep but what she may be open to doing with the encouragement of her doctor is to write. The doctor’s hope is that she will write her “story” so that he knows the truth behind her “crime” and therefore can try to effectively “treat her”. Told in flashbacks, we learn that our narrator suffered heartache early in her marriage when her husband dies unexpectedly. She, along with her companion (her husband’s cousin) make the trek to her husband’s estate The Bridge which she now, of course, has inherited. It is an isolated place where she is met with hostile looks from the help because they feel she is complicit in their “master’s death. Lonely, pregnant and creeped out by this more, our narrator is suspicious of all of those around her. Her only ally is her companion. Weird events begin to occur, where we, as readers question their authenticity. Are they real, or are they figments of her paranoid brain? Luckily she has her companion with her to validate what she sees. The estate has a past, however, one that is tempered with the hatred and murder. Through all of this, life-sized wooden figures, carved decades ago stand as silent witnesses to her descent into madness. Are they genuinely silent, or are they the cause of her fevered brain and paranoia? Our heroine is also haunted by her past, where murder and madness exist.
To add to my list of novels written by Purcell, I ordered Bone China through Amazon. It must not be sold in North America yet because it was sent to me from Madrid! It arrived beautifully bound in hardcover. Bone China possesses two storylines. One storyline takes place in the past when Louise Pincroft moves with her father to a mansion (Morvoren House) built along the ravaged coast. She accompanies her father so she can to help him conduct medical experiments on criminals who are dying of consumption. The second storyline takes place 4 decades later. It includes our protagonist Hester who has arrived at Morvoren House to take care of an ageing Louise who, well, who seems to be downright batty truth be told. Both women possess tragic histories that have come to haunt them in the present. Both women also have secrets, secrets that motivate them to behave and make choices that are anything but rational.
Laura Purcell is a master at creating an atmosphere. All three of her novels reveal settings so vivid I could be sitting in a movie theatre experience it all on the big screen. This author is my favourite writer of the “Victorian Gothic” of the moment.