Title: Florence & Giles
Author: John Harding
Genre: Gothic Horror
Release: 4 Mar 2010
Publisher: Blue Door
In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention.
After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur.
Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles, her younger brother, harm.
Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world.
I love first person narration. There is an intimacy and insight that can be gained from being inside the same character’s head for a whole story and being limited to their point of view narrows builds a closeness with the fate of the character that you rarely get in third person perspective.
I like feeling the characters emotions and understanding why they think and act the way they do. Though it can be a turn off as much as turn on if I don’t connect with the voice.
In the case of Florence her tale and her way of telling her tale is immediately drags you in.
You feel for her being left isolated in her Uncle’s house with only the servants and Giles for company.
Harding feeds you everything that could possibly make you feel sorry for her. She is practically an orphan without any real emotional comfort and support. She is intelligent but banned from exercising her mental capacities being a mere female. She has a brother that she is trying her best to protect even when he can’t or won’t go along with her plans to keep them safe. And she is also in danger from her new governess.
Harding does a good job of dragging you into the world that Florence & Giles find themselves in with all its frustrations and oddities. And when it comes time for that environment to change with the new governess he, through Florence, shows you the lengths she feels she has to go to protect her brother.
And as this is a Gothic tale the danger she faces seems extraordinary for if it was plainly described, and there are several occasions when Florence wants to tell others what is going on but has to resist as in the cold light of day, the danger she faces doesn’t seem as concrete as it appears at night.
What makes it worse is that Giles, her brother, is slowly slipping under the grip of the new governess and away from Florence.
As absorbing as the narration is there is a slow build as every day life progresses not a lot happens in terms of location or people. So you really do need to be absorbed by Florence and her fate, which I found it very easy to do and was quite happy to keep reading. The only problem is the solution to the puzzle that Florence finds herself in and how everything is going to get resolved.
I did wonder towards the end if Harding was going to able pull anything off and that I was nervous that the whole experience would be let down in the final pages. It’s quite the opposite in fact.
Harding knows where this tale is heading from the start the clues are there and have been there all along. It’s not a pretty ending. It definitely fits the story and the overall tale as disturbing enough for me to feel uncomfortable being home alone at night as I was when I was reading it.
I don’t think I’m going to look at mirrors again in the same way.
Gothic tales rely a lot on atmosphere and feeling the tension build – Harding does that through the eyes of an intelligent and isolated child whose only playmates are her younger brother and a slightly awkward and courting neighbouring child.
Both don’t feel the same dangers that Florence feels and both seem ignorant of their possible fate. As Florence’s life gets more threatened the tension builds until something gives in the most fitting if disturbing way.
A modern day Gothic horror in a 19th Century New England setting. One for fans of suspense, tension and girls who are far more intelligent than for their own good.