Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Florence and Giles by John Harding

In 1891, in a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence and her younger brother are neglected by her guardian uncle. Banned from reading, Florence devours books in secret and talks to herself—and narrates her story—in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. After the sudden violent death of the children's first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful enemy, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to protect her little brother and preserve her private world. This gothic page-turner in the tradition of The Woman in Black and The Fall of the House of Usher is told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.
This is an interesting gothic novel, with all the requisite atmosphere and mystery, and with a protagonist who is wholly original.

I adore gothic novels and unreliable narrators and, in this book, we get both. The mood takes over the reader from the very beginning, weaving its spell until we are right there in the 1890s. Florence, our protagonist is a fabulous creation, with a vocabulary all her own and a way of narrating that makes for really fun reading. At first, her sentence structure was a bit jarring, but as the pages passed, and we get used to her voice, we feel like she is speaking just for us, in a highly confidential manner.

The story itself is fascinating, with lots of mystery, but I do have to say the ending was disappointing. There were so many plot points left dangling, so many situations that were built up throughout the whole book and then not solved. It was very disappointing. I’m not sure why the author thought the story would be better off without some answers. I realize Florence is an unreliable narrator, but even knowing that, there could have been ways to let the readers know a bit more about what really happened.

I did enjoy the book right up to the very end, so it is hard to say it’s not worth reading. I don’t know. Give it a chance, I suppose, and see what you think.

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