My hunt for the gothic is never ending, and it lead me to this highly peculiar novel by Charles Lambert called The Children’s Home. Talking about it will be difficult, mostly because it transcends all descriptive techniques. Human speech was not designed to talk about this strange novel.
The Children’s Home is, in the vague terms, about a strange man living nearly alone on an estate, perhaps in England, but certainly not in a clearly recognizable world. I have a hard time discerning what is true about the novel and what is made up by our protagonist. Yeah, it’s that kind of novel. Morgan Fletcher is reclusive and strange and in some way disfigured. He keeps away from society because of this disfigurement, so his only link to the outside world is through his housekeeper and a doctor who frequently comes to visit, to take care of the children that mysteriously keep showing up on his property. Someway or another, Fletcher begins taking in stray children until he has so many living in his creepy old house that he cannot count them with any certainty, and only about three or four get names. Fletcher himself has some mommy-issues, and his family is involved in something sordid and profitable. Everything else about the novel I can’t speak of with any modicum of confidence so instead I’m going to list out all the words that come into my head when I think about this novel:
- Strange. Every person, every event, everything is strange. Out of place. Unexplainable.
- Bizarre. There are weird books, and then there are bizarre books. This is the kind of book where you just sit and think, “What the hell was going on in your head??”
- Uncomfortable. Like any good ghost story, I can’t pick out the ghosts from the real people. This lack of factual evidence, of basis in reality, is uncomfortable.
- Moody. Gloomy, glum, emotional. Everything is tied up in the gray skies.
- Peculiar. Like Mrs. Peregrin, but more peculiar. There are no children with magical powers, but there is plenty that will make you put your finger on the side of your nose and just “hmmmm.”
- Vague. The ending is probably the most vague, but there’s a lot in this story that you can’t see, even if you look at it in the face. You have to glance out of the corner of your eye. Make educated guesses. But mostly, you’ll be stumped.
- Creepy. Not in the way you think: Sure there is something weird about a rich hermit bachelor letting children live in his house, but more than that there is some darkness or danger that lurks on the edges of the world and taps on the window panes.
- Creeping. There’s some unseen movement in this novel. That big bad I mentioned in the last point is shifting and slippery. It’s getting closer.
- Atmospheric. You can’t have a book with as many modifiers as this and not have some sort of weight to it, some sort of draw that makes the world complete just with its sheer strangeness. We’re not in Kansas anymore. In fact, I think we may be on one of those planets with insufficient oxygen and we’re slowly but surely being deprived of air and maybe even being crushed by gravity all at the same time.
- Uncertain. I can’t put my finger on this novel. It’s Gothic, because its moody and subversive, but that’s the only thing I can definitively say about it. I’m not sure what it’s about, and I’m not sure what’s going on, and I’m not sure.
And for the ending I’ll give one final word, presented without explanation:
I seriously cannot explain to you what happens in this novel because I don’t really know myself. It feels more than it says, so I guess that’s the only way you’ll be able to understand. It’s so bizarre. It moves very suddenly from the vaguely uncomfortable house novel to a horror beyond compare. I still think about the ending and want to be sick. If you can find the metaphor here, please share with me.
That’s the best review I can give this delightfully strange novel. I’m not sure if I recommend it? I guess if you like strangeness and discomfort, go ahead. If you’re overly fond of children remaining in one piece, maybe avoid.
What books have you read that you just can’t figure out? Do you read them again and again until you’ve solved it or do you just put it away?