FLORENCE & GILES

Written by John Harding

Review written by Sue Lord


FLORENCE & GILES
Blue Door
RRP: £7.99
Released: 3rd March 2011
pbk Original

This homage to Henry James and The Turn of the Screw works well. John Hardy brings his own voice and makes clever changes, bringing us a gothic novel that works well and stands on its own.

But is this a crime novel? Is it a literary novel? Is it a classic gothic story? I would say it is all three. The book is full of tension, twists and turns. It is a clever, masterfully written psychological thriller. It contains two murders, an attempted murder and a questionable death and much, much more.

It is a twelve-year old orphan, Florence, who narrates the story and she uses her own language. "A house uncomfortabled and shabbied," and "a twiddlery of thumbs." This comes, one presumes, from her wide-ranging, but forbidden, reading in the library.  She admires Shakespeare and his way of making up words. I found this annoying at first but I soon got used it the language and I found some gems, e.g. Florence describes herself as “fairytaled and Rapunzelled in my tower.”

Florence lives a solitary life, spending most of her time in the library or in an abandoned tower of the remote, crumbling house. Her brother is away at school. Her guardian, who does not believe in educating girls, lives in New York and there is a housekeeper, Mrs Grouse. There are three servants and an asthmatic friend and admirer, Theo Van Hoosier.

Giles, is sent home, unable to cope with the harshness of boarding school, to be taught by a fickle governess, Miss Whitaker. When she meets with an accident on the lake she is replaced by the sinister Miss Taylor. It is obvious that Miss Taylor regards Florence as an enemy and adores Giles. Florence has to fight Miss Taylor, she needs to protect her little brother and preserve her private world. As Florence says "I would wasp her picnic."

Florence discovers two steamboat tickets to Le Havre and a duplicate set of Giles's clothes packed in Miss Taylor's room. The governess means to take Giles away. Florence tries to enlist allies in the form of Theo and a policeman in the nearby town, but no one quite believes her tale. When the governess discovers Florence's suspicions, she removes her only ally, Mrs Grouse. The last part of the book speeds to its conclusion, which leaves the reader with some questions. I like a book that makes me think. Can we believe the narrator, Florence? Was the threat from their new governess real or imagined? Who is the villain? And, who was Miss Taylor? 

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