I’m a big fan of Shirley Jackson and Neil Gaiman, so when I heard THE CHILDREN’S HOME was comparable to their work, I knew I had to give it a look. I’m happy to say I did because this quirky, fantastical fairy tale is full of mystery and wonder. And although it’s not perfect, it’s pretty close to being so. If you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary, give this book a try.
If you are not familiar with THE CHILDREN’S HOME, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Scribner:
For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.
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 garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his 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, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.
The plot synopsis does this story a fair amount of justice, but it still cannot quite capture the breadth that the book encompasses. Despite its simplistic overtones, there’s much more going on inside the tale than the reader is first led to believe. And when everything comes full circle at the end, things go from odd to surreal very quickly.
THE CHILDREN’S HOME is written very well and flows smoothly as the story unfolds. I never ran across any “dry” areas where the story fell short, nor any slow spots that made the plot drag. Instead, the book moves deftly along at a nice clip.
The characters are realistic and engaging. I particularly like how Morgan is written. We are quickly given many reasons to like him despite his circumstances, and his interactions with the children are sometimes humorous. The children themselves are also interesting, nicely fleshed-out individuals with personalities as diverse as any group of kids anywhere.
But the plot of THE CHILDREN’S HOME is where this book shines…and yet, it is also part of the downside as well. Rife with creativity and imagination, this story is one you won’t soon forget after the book ends. But at the same time, there’s no solid resolution to the tale. We are given hints here and there as to what might be, but the reader is left to decide the truth for themselves. While this is not necessarily a huge negative, I would have liked more clarification.
Still, THE CHILDREN’S HOME is a win, and I recommend it. The story yanks you in from the start, and it never relinquishes its hold until the last word is read. I am going to mark down author Charles Lambert as an author to watch out for; I can’t wait to see what he does next.