When I saw the cover for The Children’s Home by award-winning British author Charles Lambert, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary novel. And then I read the publisher’s brief description. Despite it giving me the shivers, I knew this was a novel I had to read. In some ways, The Children’s Home is a mystery but in most ways it’s fantasy – very dark gothic fantasy. This is not one of those lovely fairy tales with a hint of darkness that lighter beings overcome. Nope, this is dark, really dark, dark like only Edward Gorey or Neil Gaiman can do dark. We’re talking bordering on horror dark. It about family secrets and revenge but it’s also about redemption. Care to take a walk up into a dark twisty attic with me?
Morgan Fletcher may own a fabulous estate in England but he’s never been the dashing lord you might imagine living on such an estate. Morgan is a young wealthy disfigured recluse who spares the world the chance to poke fun and humiliate him or, even worse, to pity him. He’s an introspective person, enjoying his research and living quietly with only household staff to keep him company. He has come to make the most of what life has dealt him. He does avoid any reflective surface though, so he won’t be unnecessarily reminded of his appearance. There’s no point in rubbing salt into the wound after all. It’s a quiet existence but it suits him.
Then one day that all changes. Two infants, Moira and David, appear on his doorstep (first Moira and soon after David) and he takes them each in – a bit reluctantly at first but still. It doesn’t seem odd to him that he accepts them. In truth, he’s more of a boy/man than an adult man anyway. Morgan doesn’t legally adopt them but he might as well have because once they are there it’s as if they’ve always been there, which pleases him immensely. They have free rein of the estate, and their care is overseen by the new housekeeper, Engel. It’s nice to have children about the house. They don’t make much fuss and sometimes disappear for long periods, only to turn up later after having explored some dusty attic room in a remote part of the house. Just children being children, even if they do have some odd quirks – at least quirks that seem odd to adults.
“The children began to arrive soon after Engel came to the house. It was Engel who found the first one, an infant girl, in a basket, with a bundle of neatly folded, freshly washed clothes. The basket was left on the steps leading up from the kitchen into the garden. Whoever had put it there must have known the way the house worked, because days might have passed before any of the other doors were opened; left anywhere else, the child would probably have died. As it was, no more than an hour or two had gone by but already the creature was blue with cold.”
“She [Engel] said they should tell someone perhaps, someone would know what to do with her [the infant], but Morgan disagreed. Left to himself, he might have been tempted. What use did he have for a child, after all? But he could hear that Engel’s heart wasn’t in it. Just look at you both, he said. What could be better than this? Don’t you know how to deal with her as well as anyone? Let her stay here with us, where she will be clothed and fed, and kept out of this wicked weather. At least for a while.”
“He wanted to see if this child would change him; more than anything he wanted that. But what he felt seemed familiar to him; he had felt it before with small animals, kittens, a hamster he’d once been given, the little stagger of a newborn lamb; even with plants, those plants that flowered and had scent, that had touched his heart for a moment before they died. It will take time, he said to himself, only slightly disappointed. Miracles will take time.”
And then more children begin to turn up, one by one, and Morgan welcomes them each and every one. They bring laughter and the sounds of playing to the empty house. And best of all, even though he finds it hard to believe, they accept Morgan for who he is deep inside instead of what he looks like on the outside.
Even Dr. Crane, who comes to the house to attend to Morgan’s medical needs, is very taken with them. They’re just very endearing children, every one of them. In fact, Dr. Crane is so taken with them that he begins to spend much more time at the estate, in the library and interacting with them. Dr. Crane is a adult man instead of a boy/man, so he begins to not just notice the children’s odd quirks but to become concerned about them. Something isn’t right and, since Morgan’s wellbeing is his primary concern, he’s determined to find out what is really going on with Morgan and these odd children. And that, dear readers, falls into the “be careful what you wish for” category.
What are the children doing for all those hours in the house’s remote attics? What spell have they cast over Morgan and what is it doing to him? How are they changing not just Morgan but the estate itself? Who are they?
Normally I would talk about the novel’s characters at this point but I will provide spoilers if I do that, so I’m going to skip that for this novel. My apologies; however, I just can’t find any way to write about these people without giving too much away.
Most of you probably don’t know Shirley Jackson’s work since she died in the 1960’s. I read several of her pieces, including The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House, in college and they made a shivering impression on me. It is her work that The Children’s Home most reminds me of, along with Neil Gaiman’s. It has that same literary horror/fantasy feel to it – that creeping up my spine feel. Charles Lambert has written a novel in The Children’s Home that is both creepy as hell and heartwarming and that, my fellow readers, is no small feat. You all know me well enough by now to know how squeamish I can be, yet I could not put it down. If you like ghost stories, gothic tales, horror with a mystery embedded, or dark fantasy, I suspect you won’t be able to put it down either.
Can’t wait to read it? The Children’s Home is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click the link and you can get it to read immediately!
I’d love to get your comments on The Children’s Home, Charles Lambert and/or his other work, and/or this review.