This House is Haunted by John Boyne

We’re all scared of something. Well, most of us, myself included. For those of you who say you aren’t scared of anything, I call bullshit you can skip this post. My something is actually somethings. I’m scared of several things – spiders, flying, aliens, garbage disposals, and lawnmowers. You know – the usual stuff. I can pinpoint my fear of lawnmowers to one fateful night when my mother thought I was sleeping (I wasn’t) and I inadvertently watched The Lawnmower Man*. I must have been 6 or so. I’ve never forgotten that movie, though I’m sure Pierce Brosnan wishes I would. He now has the dubious honor of having ruined not one, but two Stephen King adaptations. As for my healthy fear of aliens, I credit the greatest television show (for the first five, arguably six seasons) ever produced – The X-Files.

(And no, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad. It’s been hell tuning out all the spoilers this week.)

Possession, abduction, plane crashes, cancer, killer bees, the black oil. Those aliens were not the friendly sort. Add in the fact that I had a lot of nosebleeds as a child and you can understand why I’m still frightened. I won’t share at what embarrassingly young age I started watching The X-Files, but I was still a few years shy of hitting double digits. I was young, impressionable, and completely unaware of wholesome shows like Little House on the Prairie. Which, let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched anyway. It’s worth noting that a later viewing of Alien and Aliens did nothing to alter my original impression of extraterrestrial beings. The most ridiculous part of my fear is that I still actively worry about aliens. Do they exist? If they do, do they even care about us? More importantly, do I wanna know?

(Go ahead, click that last link, I’ve had that song stuck in my head for DAYS, the least I can do is pass that pleasure on to you. You can thank me later. Okay, so you probably won’t thank me, but you will be able to commiserate with me. The answer to the question is no, I absolutely do not want to know if aliens exist, but I want to believe.)


Considering the above, it would stand to reason that I might be wary of ghosts. In fact, it’s quite possible my house is haunted. This is according to my brother, who watches my house when I travel; I’ve never felt any malevolent entities floating around (see his ghost evidence here and here, then see why we’re friends here). However, surprisingly enough, I’m not. I love a good ghost story. I particularly love reading a good ghost story in October. Recently I had the opportunity to review ‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne – a striking homage to the classic nineteenth century ghost story – and I admit to going in with unreasonably high expectations. I was not disappointed.


Young schoolteacher Eliza Caine, within the span of a week, loses her father, her home, and her employment. Distraught over the loss of her only family, Eliza hastily replies to an oddly worded advertisement in the paper. Gaudlin Hall is looking for a governess. She is hired sight unseen and ventures to the north of England to begin her new life. But her new country home is not as idyllic as it seems, nor are the children as innocent as they appear. Something unseen is haunting Eliza’s every move and if she wants to survive, she will have to discover the sordid truth about her new home and its occupants.

‘This House is Haunted**’ by John Boyne is everything a classic ghost story should be. With its Dickensian prose, disappearing servants, crotchety groundskeeper, mysteriously absent owner, precocious children, wary townsfolk, dense fog, and howling wind, it’s like a cross between ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jane Eyre’, and ‘Turn of the Screw’. If there was a checklist of required elements to creating a “classic” ghost story, Boyne would have hit every single one. From paling as a result of distressing news to the mysterious attic inhabitant, Boyne walks a fine line between homage and parody with excellent results. He does not attempt to add anything new to the genre and the novel is not “serious” despite its subject matter. The novel affectionately uses every cliché there is, yet Eliza is likable and not simply a caricature of a plain Victorian heroine. Is it predictable? Yes. Is it formulaic? Yes. Is it wonderfully atmospheric? Yes. Would I highly recommend it? Yes, with the caveat “not for highbrow literary purists”. From its opening line (“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.”) to its closing twist, it’s pure Gothic fun. 4/5. Read it and have a good time – it’s popcorn fiction***.

Now I am curious. I want to know what scares you. Aliens? Ghosts? Zombies? Captain Trips? Do tell (if you’d like). Or, if you prefer to keep it simple, tell me if you like ghost stories.


In the novel, Mrs. Sutcliffe’s tea shop serves the best custard tarts in the village, so that is what I’m recommending. I’ve never actually had a custard tart, but it can’t be bad. Right?

*Although my lawnmower fear primarily stems from that movie, there was one rather gruesome scene from the otherwise unfortunate The Happening that has stuck with me in vivid detail.
**I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion,
***If that phrase hasn’t been used before in this sense, I’m coining it now. It’s a good waste of time.


33 thoughts on “This House is Haunted by John Boyne

  1. hehehe lawnmowers are extremely dangerours, indeed!
    I’m scared of terror books and films! I read Carrie and I couldn’t sleep that week! 😀
    But anyway, I also feel attracted to these kinds of books. By the way, the cover is awesome.
    I also feel that sometimes it’s good when a book gives you exactly what you expect; there are no surprises, but you enjoy it since it was what you wanted it to be.


    1. That’s exactly what this is. It’s a classic ghost story in every way and turns out exactly as you’d think, yet it’s still an enjoyable read.

      Lawnmowers are dangerous. It is why I bought one of those push mowers to mow my lawn. I may look ridiculous, but I am safe and in good shape. 🙂


  2. I’m so glad to hear good things about this, because I’ve totally been looking forward to it. I am totally creeped out by haunted houses. Not old scary houses, like the one I live in, but the pay $10 to pave a guy in a plastic Jason mask chase you around type. SO SCARY.


    1. I went in a corn maze like that once. It was terrifying. Those haunted hay rides always get me too – when the guys comes out chasing you with a chainsaw. It makes me wonder why we subject ourselves to such things. Because really, in what capacity is it fun to be chased with a chainsaw? And yet…


    1. So are you saying you’d do this?

      Because I totally would. One of the grossest things that has ever happened to me was when I was sitting on the couch, innocently watching TV, when out of the corner of my eye I see a spider scurry across the arm of the sofa. I killed it, of course, only to discover that it had it’s egg sac of baby spiders on it. So when I removed my shoe, hundreds of little baby spiders started crawling around. I wanted to burn that couch. I hate spiders. I really, really hate them. It’s probably the fastest way to see me lose it.


      1. EXACTLY.

        I’d like to think I’d be reasonable about such things, but I’m a honest person – the house would burn to the ground.


  3. I get scared easily and after watching The Conjuring movie, I couldn’t sleep for 2 days. Taking that into account, I still can’t stay away from scary stories, and this one sounds like a good one, especially since you compared it to Rebecca!


    1. Yeah, I definitely couldn’t bring myself to watch the conjuring. I figure if I the preview scared me, going to the theater wouldn’t work out in my favor. I cannot handle anything that claims to be based on a true story. Far, far too scary…


  4. I enjoyed The Hiuse if Special Purpose by Mr Boyne so i will have to check this out. My fears (besides SPIDERS) are being buried alive (the first time I saw that scene from Kill Bill Vol II, I practically hyperventilated) and being commuted to an insane asylum


    1. Sort of along the same lines, one of my big fears is that people won’t believe me (and thus commit me). This is one of the reasons Rosemary’s Baby has always disturbed me. No one believed her.

      And cheers to the fear of spiders. I’ll drink to their eradication.


  5. Abandoned asylums / hospitals / prisons / large homes. If that’s used as a setting for a creepy tv show or movie, I’m already more than halfway scared before the additional scary moments are added.


    1. You can just tell when something scary is coming. I’ve taken to hiding my face behind my hands/pillows/whatever’s handy. It’s like how old am I? 10? But if I don’t see it, it can’t haunt my dreams, right?

      Although, in actuality, seeing sometimes helps lessen the fear. I’m thinking particularly of Jeepers Creepers which was really scary until they showed the monster’s lair. It looked so fake that I felt quite a bit better from there until the end. Not that I’ll be stopping at abandoned farmhouses or the like in Kansas any time soon. Often I find things are scarier when they could be real – like Joy Ride.


  6. Great review! I agree, this novel is a cross between all of those Gothic titles you mentioned, which was fun xD

    Mmmm, custard tarts, could use some right now…

    Things that scare me: spiders *shudders* How is it that those arachnoids can reduce me into terror-stricken five-year-old? (oh, centipedes too, the ones with the freakishly long legs (if there’s any difference between them). I hate the summer time because they would suddenly pop up around the house and I’m like DDD=) I’m sure there are other things that scare me but right now creepy insects and the like are prominent in my mind =P


    1. I should really try a custard tart sometime, but they are not exactly widely available in the wild west of Colorado. Buffalo jerky? Yes. Turkey drumsticks? Yes. Cake pops? Yep, totally gourmet. It’s a wonder we’re the thinnest state in the US.

      Spider fear for the win. There is nothing worse than trying to kill a spider in the house and it gets away. Because I bet those things have a great memory (or at least my scared inner child thinks so). They are just so gross, I don’t care that they eat other insects. I just have to look at my leg (where I was bitten by a recluse spider) to remember exactly why I hate them.


  7. I’m afraid of a lot, but water is a big one (probably at least partly because I can’t swim… though I think oceans would scare the crap out of me regardless, there’s some crazy-ass stuff in there), along with heights (though I’m surprisingly okay with roller coasters), which means I flip out any time I’m driving over a bridge that goes over water… which is all the time since I live right on the Mississippi. I’m okay if I’m a passenger (well, okay-ish), but if I’m the one driving, I always worry the car is just suddenly going to start spinning out of control and go flying off.


    1. I moved around a lot when I was growing up. One of the places I lived was Jamestown, Rhode Island. To get there you have to cross this rickety old bridge that was proven to be unstable. They were working on building the new bridge while we lived there, but in the meantime we had to cross this awful bridge:

      "old" Jamestown bridge 4/18/2006

      That started my fear of bridges, I was quite thankful when they opened the new, sturdy one. Now I figure if a bridge looks better than that one, I can suck it up.

      I love the water and miss it dearly. I was a competitive swimmer for a long time and miss it. I still go to the lap pool when I can. I will say there is something wonderful about being able to see the bottom of the pool though.Although there’s a X-Files episode that features a mysterious entity that kills in a pool…

      Let’s face it – nothing’s safe. 😉


  8. The things that scare the crap out of me are things like frogs (I have a horror story about them) and real-life incidents, like robbers hiding in the backseat of the car or in a closet or behind a shower curtain (so yeah, I’m that person who checks behind ALL closed shower curtains before using the bathroom anywhere)


    1. Haha! I totally check behind the shower curtain too. I also check inside my shoes, very thoroughly, for spiders. I have a horror story about leeches, those things freak me out now. I can’t believe people used to agree to be drained. I’d be like “let me die, please”.


      1. I’ve had a cockroach inside my rollerblade once, you know, when I was younger and it was still cool to rollerblade, so I totally get the whole “what’s inside my shoes????” thing!

        I also had a cockroach come out of the shower faucet, you know, like when it was warming up, so from then on, I let the faucet run for a minute before turning it into the shower part.


  9. Clowns. And birds. Big time- that story circulating a week or so ago about some creepy clown terrorizing a small town in London? I would have a heart attack. And birds are worse. I swear they watch me as I run every morning around a pond in my town. Geese, crows, all of them. They sense the fear.
    BTW- just heard of this book yesterday- sounds great!


    1. Yeah, I’m not fond of clowns either. Thanks Stephen King. Or birds, come to think of it. I’m not terrified by any means, but I don’t like them. I was out for a walk with my hair in a top not and a bird attacked my hair! I was not pleased and now give proper consideration to my hairstyle (in regards to bird appeal) before leaving the house.

      I thought the book was great, it not exactly award worthy, but it’s great ghost fluff.


  10. Are garbage disposals just too similar to lawnmowers? Or is it the loud noise? Or are you scared as in “It’ll probably break and I don’t want to fix it” cause that’s how my friend is.

    Sounds good! But not too scary, right? Cause I hate being really scared. But it sounds like it has a great atmosphere like Rebecca and I LOVED that about Rebecca.

    Killer dolls scare me, mostly. I know it’s not a real thing, but HEY YOU NEVER KNOW IT COULD HAPPEN. Stupid “Child’s Play” ruined me for life.


  11. Although, I don’t believe in ghosts, I was dreadfully frightened of my mother’s ironing board when I was a child; it took on the appearance of a vampire’s coffin (in my mind). It seemed so tall when she leaned it against the wall outside of my bedroom. It also didn’t help that we had a photo of Bela Lugosi in the living room.


  12. Oh my gosh, you’re scared of garbage disposals too?? Since you’ve cleared up that whole comparison to Dickens, I do believe I will be picking this up. Ghosties are my favorite of the paranormal variety. (And the scariest)


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