Florence and Giles
19 May 2015 2 Comments
Author: John Harding
Summary: 1891. In a crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence and her younger brother Giles are neglected by their guardian uncle. Banned from reading, Florence devours books in secret, and twists words and phrases into a language uniquely her own.
After the violent death of the children’s first governess, a second arrives. Florence becomes convinced she is vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against a powerful enemy, with no adult to turn for help, Florence will need all her intelligence and ingenuity to save Giles and preserve her private world. This is her chilling tale…
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
Review: There was a lot i liked about this book, but there was also a lot that i think could be improved. On the whole, i don’t like having that kind of feeling about a book; i like to either really like it, really hate it, or just think it was okay. To see so much good and so much potential in a book just leaves me wanting.
Let’s start with the good. I adored Florence–from start to finish. She’s strong, smart and independent; i can’t not love her. She teaches herself how to read, she spends hours each day sneaking to the library to read. She creates a herself a little den in the library in the winter to keep warm while she reads, she reads and loves Shakespeare and Poe. She messes with the English language, making nouns and adjectives into verbs (which are hit and miss; some are brilliant, others are awkward). She effortlessly manipulates the adults around her, while never taking that ability for granted.
I loved the setting: A old country mansion. Two young children alone save for the adults hired to tend to the house. Visits from the young boy from the next mansion over. And i loved the setting up of a mystery: A mysterious uncle whom no one has ever met. A father and two mothers whose lives nor deaths anyone will speak of. A photo album with the faces of one woman cut out. The sudden death of one governess followed by the swift appointing of a suspicious second.
Where the book then started to fail was towards the end, with the rather lacking unravelling of this mystery. Quite early on i thought i had it pegged. I thought i knew who this suspicious new governess was and what her motives were. In the end, i can’t be sure whether i was right or wrong–the clues surrounding it are never truly addressed. Instead there is a different twist to the end of the book. A twist which i loved, but that came with it’s own problems. All the foreshadowing in the book pointed in one direction, while the drama at the end focused on something entirely different. Neither the mystery nor the twist satisfied me enough because of this.
I really would have liked to see a better pay off for the clues scattered throughout the first half of the book, as well as more build up and foreshadowing towards the twist that is revealed at the end. The fact that i can see exactly how easily this book could have been better, stronger, more shocking… it pains me more than everything i enjoyed about it.
To end on a fond note, though, one of my favourite Florence-isms:
As I princessed in the tower, he knight-in-shining-armoured up the drive.
This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A retelling (it’s a reworking of The Turn of the Screw), main character under 16 and a strong sibling relationship.