Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
|Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: It's hard to sum up in a few lines, but here goes. It starts a Victorian gothic murder mystery. It then becomes the embodiment of a dark fantasy nightmare. It's very, very, very good.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: July 2012|
|Publisher: Titan Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Widowed under tragic circumstances, Charlotte Markham needs an income and so she's employed by widower Henry Darrow as a governess for his sons James and Paul. Their home 'Everton' may seem a typical Victorian mansion but the town of Blackfield isn't your average English small town; the Darrow's Nanny Prum is found murdered in a particularly grisly manner. It's a mystery to the local police but Charlotte's friend Susannah has a clue if only they'd listen to her. Meanwhile the Darrow boys' nights are spent dreaming of a house in the woods where their mother still lives. Charlotte decides to treat this head on and takes them for a walk to show them there's no substance to it. However, in doing so they discover the nightmare that is The House of Darkling.
American Michael Boccacino wrote this, his debut novel, as a response to dreams he was having about his own late mother. Michael's dreams stopped short of a mysterious wood but the novel goes further, wandering through the trees to a house and inhabitants that leach out into Charlotte Markham's real world. Mr B certainly has an imagination; this is a gothic novel unlike any other.
The best way to explain it is as a story onion. The skin of the story is the seemingly normal Victorian tale of a governess and those with whom she comes in contact. Once the skin has been stripped away, there's an eerie murder with a hint of a modern Wilkie Collins. That phase doesn't linger too long though as, page by page, further layers are discarded taking you into the strangest world and acquainting you with the oddest occupants. The author has likened it to the work of Tim Burton. Indeed, it's very Tim Burton but I could also spot a splash of Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, (related stylistically rather than plagiarised) and it's a recipe that works.
For me the cleverness arises from the credibility; as odd as things became, they inhabited my imagination and refused to budge. Charlotte isn't the primmest of governesses but this is a career choice born of unexpected bereavement, not training. She clearly loves her young charges and her ability to humour and play with them increases her attractiveness to 21st century readers. Henry Darrow is straitjacketed by sorrow, stiff upper lip and convention. In some ways he's an American's idea of an Englishman (yes, another book with cream in the tea) but, at the same time, manages to remain faithful to the story's setting. The boys are charming and true to life, coping with their mother's loss as befitting their age: moments of normality interspersed with mourning and painful remembrances.
I so want to discuss Michael Boccacino's use of politics and that wonderfully enigmatic ending but then I would give too much away. However, I can say that he has an eye for the literary device as stories within the story reveal the Darkling's secrets to the reader and characters simultaneously. Having said that, be warned, this is definitely not a children's novel. It's much more Grimm than Blyton as there's a few instances of gore. The themes, though, run through all age groups: regret, loss and the tragedy of thoughts that must remain unspoken once that loss is being endured. The only thing that does differ with age is how we approach them.
Finally, a plea: even if you never read the 'extras' at the back of books, make an exception in this case and read Michael's explanatory notes Behind the Book. This is proof that he's no one-genre-writer. Here's a remarkable tribute to a brave woman and the demonstration of writing skill that touches the heart more deeply in a few pages than many authors can manage in a few volumes. Indeed, we haven't heard the last of Mr Boccacino.
I would like to thank Titan Books for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed this, then maybe try Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink.
You can read more book reviews or buy Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino at Amazon.com.
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