Florence & Giles by John Harding is a tale of isolation, fear, madness and risen spirits. It is simultaneously a classic ghost story and a modern psychological thriller, with a truly unique narrator. What at first seems to be a fairly standard story of a lonely child living a secluded life in a haunted house soon turns into an intriguing, compelling, spine-tingling and original story that is impossible to put down.
Florence, our narrator, is an instantly likeable enigma, with her own take on the English language with which she narrates and a strange isolated existence. She lives out her quiet life with her younger brother in a mansion in the country with only the servants and the books she is forbidden to read for company. This quiet life starts to fall apart when their governess is killed in a confused boating accident. With her replacement, Miss Taylor, comes a series of inexplicable and sinister events that lead Florence to believe she is a malevolent spirit come to torment Florence and steal away Giles.
The plot is subtle, possibilities are suggested, never stated, and nothing is ever quite as it seems. As the story continues it gets harder and harder to sit back passively and be a passenger in the story, as threads start to come together and beliefs are conflicted. It becomes impossible not to start to make our own conclusions, regardless of what is being told to us. The reader is left to make up their own mind about what is real and what is not, what is truth and what is fantasy, something that makes a chilling tale like Florence & Giles all the more special.
The tension builds gradually, with a battle of wills taking place between Florence and the governess, until it crescendos into a tense, thrilling and brutal finale that will leave you faintly dazed and fully disturbed.
Read by candlelight, alone, at night.
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