I used to work in a castle which had a beautiful 17th Century Long Gallery with two free standing painted figures of children – ‘silent companions’ – either side of one of the fireplaces. These were much remarked upon by visitors and were some of the star pieces of the historic collection. Their purpose is uncertain, creating a sense of mystery. So, when I was looking for a spooky book to read, Laura Purcell’s ‘The Silent Companions’ instantly grabbed my attention.
First of all, this book looks beautiful. The cover is an elegant ivory colour decorated with gold and black motifs – very classy. There is a keyhole shape cut into the cover with an eye looking through from the frontispiece behind. When you open the cover, you discover that this eye belongs to a 17th Century painting of a young girl. Who is she and what relevance does she have to the story? All very intriguing.
Mainly set in Victorian England the story told by the Silent Companions is that of Elsie, a young woman recently widowed and travelling to her husband’s creepy old house in the country to bury him. But this house has secrets, and so does Elsie. These are slowly revealed through discoveries and flashbacks to both Elsie’s earlier life and events which take place at the house in 1635.
17th Century style dumby boards or 'silent companions'
There are a few historical inaccuracies present in the story, and the twist at the end of the tale is fairly obvious. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I am willing to overlook such minor niggles when the story is as well written and compelling as this one.
I had never heard of Laura Purcell before reading this book, but now she is one of the authors I watch out for. The story she tells is very atmospheric, intriguing and spooky in a gothic way. Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, the Silent Companions is a satisfying read for long dark winter nights.