Book #35

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband's crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband's awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.

In order to fully set into your hearts how bloody terrifying this novel is, it’s important to understand what a silent companion is. They look like this:

Painted figures intended to provide company, deter criminals, or simply to delight guests with their oddness and curiosity. The Victorian versions of cardboard cutouts. Nope, no thank you, my Uber is here, goodbye.

In a very hostile, gothic house - The Bridge - newly widowed Elsie is forced to contend with these wooden horrors as they follow and trick her throughout the dark rooms. The noise they make as they move, their incomprehensible ability to reappear even after being destroyed, their moving eyes - all of this turned me into a nervous wreck.

We experience the tale through three different timelines. Initially, we see Elsie confined to an asylum, mute and confused, with a doctor attempting to pull her story from her. We then move to the events as they happened, with Elsie arriving at the house and discovering the companions. Trickled amongst these two perspectives are the entries of a discovered diary, written by a previous inhabitant of The Bridge, giving context and history to the companions, and raising even more supernatural questions. This style was a masterstroke from Purcell, as it creates further mystery and questions, adding to the chills and frightening possibilities.

Purcell’s writing here is perfect for the genre. She creates a tension which is unsettling and almost unbearable, evoking strange moans and ‘no no no’s from me as I read in abject terror. The atmosphere is thick with suspense, anticipation crawls on your neck, and a strong sense of foreboding prevails through every paragraph.

This is one of the most chilling and utterly petrifying horror novels I’ve read. During my time with it, I experienced some unsettling moments at home - a picture falling off the wall and my kettle turning on by itself - causing dramatic squeals and the throwing of the book across the room. I’m just relieved I no longer have my Ginger Spice cardboard cutout from the 90s - she’d have been thrust firmly in the recycling bin and Spice Up Your Life would never again be played in this house.