Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins.  Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his gardens.  One day, two children, Moira and David, appear.  Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with this housekeeper, Engel.  Then more children begin to show up. 

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan's lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan is, and beings to spend more time in Morgan's library.  But the children behave strangely.  They show a prescient understand of Morgan's past, and their bizarre discoveries int he mansion's attics grow increasingly disturbing.  Every day the children disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan's mind.

Every once in a while I come across a book that is almost impossible to review, not because it's horribly written or boring to read, but because it defies description.  The Children's Home is one of those books that no genre label is really going to fit.  There are elements of horror, fairy tale, fantasy, and science fiction.  Throw in generous helpings of the Gothic and psychological, and you may be able to grasp the sort of book this is.  I'm going to assume, if you were to look for this in your neighborhood bookstore, it would be shelved under the generic Fiction label.  At least that's where I hope you find it after you read this review, and take a car trip to get your own copy.

My reaction to this one, is as close to my reaction to Gillespie and I by Jane Harris, as I've had since then.  I'm gong to simply tell you guys to read this book, pray that you do, and give a big "I told you so", once you do it.  But if I'm expecting you guys to just do what I say, maybe I should try to get across why I loved this one as much as I did.

In Morgan, we are given a narrator who is both deeply flawed, and extremely likable. Morgan is one of those characters that I could easily see myself spending time with, holed up in his mansion, floating from conversation to conversation.  He has a painful family past, and no true familial relationships to ground him.  He is a passive participant in life, though I'm not always sure of that, as glimpses of a "real" Morgan do appear from time to time.  At first, he lives alone, except for some nameless staff, on this massive estate, closed off from the outside world.  In a very Shirley Jackson style way, we are given to know that maybe this is for the best, and that outside those walls, society is falling apart and isn't a place anyone in their right mind would want to be.  His household grows with the inclusion of his housekeeper Engel, who is definitely not all she is purporting to be.  And then the children start to arrive.  And that's when the Shirley Jackson aspects of this book, really start to kick in.

As the reader, you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that something is definitely off about the whole thing.  The children range in age from newborn to early teens, and they just show up.  Some appear on the doorstep, others emerge from the lake, and some just appear out of thin air. You are really never sure, including after the bizarre ending, who these kids are, or where they are coming from.  Are they the ghosts of kids sacrificed for the family fortune? Are they time travelers from the past and future, trying to prevent an even more heinous outcome? Are they from another reality all together, trying to save some aspects of this one?  Regardless of who they are, or where they come from, the bigger question is why are they there.  After the ending at the factory, it's safe to say we know the answer to that, but I'm not totally convinced.  There is an almost dreamlike quality to the scene, I'm not sure if Morgan, Dr. Crane, or I as a reader, can truly trust everything that happened.

With any good Gothic story, there needs to be an element of romance, and we have that with Morgan and Dr. Crane.  The author does a terrific job of navigating their relationship; keeping it on the purely platonic level, but allowing a reader to infer what is really going on between them.  As with the rest of this book, their relationship is open to interpretation.  I can almost bet, 50 of my friends could read this one, and not pick up anything of a romantic nature between the two characters, but it's all I noticed when they were together.  Maybe it's because, after all he's been through, and after the children leave, I want Morgan to have a solid future.  It doesn't have to be a blissfully happy life, but I need for him to be on solid ground, sure of his place and of those in his life.


Bookfool said...

I know I read another glowing review of this one *somewhere* but I can't recall where. I'll have to see if I've put it on the wish list. Love it that you referred to Shirley Jackson. That's always a positive!

Blodeuedd said...

That cover is cool and I want a frame like that

TracyK said...

Sounds very strange and very interesting. I will have to check it out if I run into a copy.

carol said...

I've actually been looking for some sci-fi reads for Michelle's read-a-thon in June and this sounds perfect - not too sci-fi, but enough to fit the category. And it definitely sounds like one i might enjoy.

Yvette said...

Sounds eerie and haunting and intriguing, Ryan. Will add it to my TBR List for this year. I like your enthusiasm, a major plus for me.