book review, edgar allan poe, florence and giles, gothic fiction, henry james, john harding, literature, peter ackroyd, poe a life cut short, the turn of the screw
Florence and Giles by John Harding
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This was my Hallowe’en read for the year, and I did get rather excited at the prospect of a ‘Poe’ meets ‘The Turn of the Screw‘, but it really wasn’t to be. While the concept is firmly rooted in the Gothic tradition (thanks to it being almost a re-write of the illustrious, aforementioned title by Henry James) it really does lack in the ‘scare factor’ that it so promises on the back cover.
This is the story of Florence and Giles, two orphaned children living with their estranged uncle in a vast, sprawling estate known as Blithe House. However, the name of the house is grossly misleading as nothing about the place is ‘blithe’. It is a cold, forbidding mansion with ancient turrets and a dark history. Florence is our precocious little narrator, and guides us through the ghostly happenings of the place and the strange people who live there.
Besides her quiet, rather innocent brother (who needs protecting most of the time) there is her uncle, a pedantic odd sort of man who much to Florence’s annoyance, forbids her to read. Despite her uncle’s stern request Florence does read and her midnight sojourns to the crumbling library were the most enjoyable parts of the book. A bit of a childhood fantasy come true for me! Another endearing aspect to Florence’s personality is her affection for Shakespeare, which she admires so much that she adopts his ‘word-forgery’. As a result she develops her own take on English, splicing words together to make them seem more dramatic. In some aspects she is uncannily like her uncle, and as the novel progresses is further strengthened to suggest a far closer blood-bond.
However when it comes to the accidental death of the old governess, and the appointment of the new one, I find things get a bit tedious. I could clearly see that the new governess was supposed to be a very scary witch-like character, possibly even a revenant, and Harding almost DID pull it off in a particularly hair-raising sequence, but it was never followed up after that.
Instead there is a ‘twist’, in that we realise that our narrator may not be as reliable as we first thought. For me, the turn of events served to kill the story rather than improve it.
It is a good novel for gothic fiction fans, but those looking fora bit more ‘oomph’ needn’t bother. If you want something like Poe, read Poe. There are really no substitutes for them in my opinion, but having said that I do commend Harding for having a go at it.
If you are interested in Edgar Allen Poe, please read my review on Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd.