Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Oh, forgive me, Alice, say you forgive me – please!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter and the following two are some of the most striking in the whole trilogy. (Please do add your comments in this, dear Readers, as I’d love to know if this section had as much of an impact on you as it did on me.)
Finally, we catch up with Miss Boston in London, and of course, there are devilish doings afoot. Like Ben and Jennet, Aunt Alice cannot seem to go anywhere without the supernatural growling at her heels and making a nuisance of itself, and in this chapter we find that she can’t even visit an old friend for a few days without all manner of hocus-pocus ensuing.
What stands out to me about this chapter and the next two is the atmosphere of absolute dark dread. The ominous emptiness of the grand house, the icy demeanour of Judith Deacon, and the chilling scene where Mrs Gunning tries to warn Miss Boston of ‘great evil’ all contribute to make things suddenly profoundly ominous in a way that is far more pronounced than in The Whitby Witches. In that book, there was always a sense that our heroes could band together to save the day, or at the very least, make a noble sacrifice in the attempt. Here, the children are isolated from the one guardian who might be able to help them, and that guardian in turn has come into a situation in which she is, for the moment, powerless.
This whole chapter is very affecting, but on reread I was struck by the almost poetic imagery of Mrs Gunning on her deathbed, looking ‘more gossamer-like than the curtains’ and perfectly echoing the chapter title. At the close of this chapter, we must ask ourselves: if Mrs Gunning is about to pass through the veil, what might have already passed the other way and entered the realm of the living?
Matt’s Thoughts: I’m having such fun with this one. Whitby has become so much like a character in the story that it is immediately alienating to be thrown into London. Even more so, when you throw in all the goings-on at Mrs Gunnings’ house.
I always hate how Agatha Christie comparisons are the first to pop into my head with this stuff. (I blame that partworks series that came out at the newsagents a few years ago that I was collecting – drip-feeding Christie novels at the rate of one a fortnight for several years has blurred them all together in my brain.) But even if it’s not Christie, it’s Great British Novelistic Tropes thrown together. There’s the Woman in the Sickbed. There’s the Snotty Butler.
And, of course, greatest of all – the Terrifying Nurse. What is it about Terrifying Nurses? How many Christie novels feature somebody who looks particularly like they are slowly poisoning someone else? Or Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or perhaps Nurse Noakes – if there are any fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (or the movie of the same name) in here?
Either way, what is going on here? What is this devious stuff – that feels like a trap – that Miss Boston has wandered into? I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep reading!