Florence and her younger brother, Giles, are orphans, living with servants in the rambling house of their absent uncle. Although denied an education, Florence hides in the library where she secretly teaches herself to read and devours its books, particularly Gothic novels. After, the death of Giles’ first governess in tragic and uncertain circumstances, a replacement arrives, but Florence fears she is not what she seems and is determined to save Giles from her evil intentions.
Harding has weaved a tale with all the elements of a traditional Gothic novel: an old mansion with a tower, orphaned children, secrets and mysteries, a ghostly governess, supernatural events, and a sense of foreboding. It is narrated by 12 year old Florence, to whom he gives a distinctive voice as she puts her own touch on the English language, in a way which is clever, refreshing and alluring when it could so easily have felt contrived.
The novel is gripping as the reader wrestles to determine whether Florence’s worst fears are justifiable or merely the product of a young girl’s over-active imagination, fuelled by the Gothic fiction that she consumes.
This is the second Harding novel that I’ve read, the first being One Big Damn Puzzler. Both are completely different, apart from the fact that he successfully maintains a distinctive use of language in each and that they are both extremely satisfying to read.