#29 The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert
This eerie combination of inverted folk tale and psychological thriller is a difficult book to categories but for that very reason, exactly the kind of book that compels the reader to continue. Briefly put, a disfigured recluse spends his days cataloguing books on his remote estate, whilst his sister runs some kind of family business empire and sends him a housekeeper to look after him. Then children start arriving – some out of thin air. Defying easy labelling, it’s apparently set in a relatively modern era (although the children worship a wax anatomical model in a very non-modern way) and there are mentions of troubles and building walls to keep them out, that might cause older readers to think of Northern Ireland whilst younger ones might plump for Donald Trump’s plans. Whatever era and region you settle on, the protagonist, Morgan, is reclusive but not rejecting – as the children appear – and appear to accept him – he becomes concerned for them to the point of calling in a local doctor when one becomes ill. But this is a dark story and David, one of the boys becomes both their spokesman and some kind of interlocutor, causing Morgan to wonder who these children are and what they will eventually require of him. With the housekeeper Engel, and the doctor, he tries to assure their safety but as the narrative darkens it becomes clear that nothing is quite as it first seemed and Morgan’s whole world is a Jamesian (both Henry and William) construction of half-truths, half-realities and uncertain un-endings that, at the denouement, reveals not an ending but and deeper reality (perhaps an irreality) in which Morgan, and the children are nothing like their surface appearance. Deceptively childlike in construction, this tale provokes deep unease in the reader about what lies behind our own comfortable realities.
Peggy McCarthy17th August 2016
This is a very accurate and fair assessment of The Children’s Home. I notice you don’t trumpet its value, and I appreciate that. I personally gave up on the book about 2/3 in, citing unremitting gloominess and a sense of darkness that did not raise my interest or curiosity and did not promise a satisfying ending. Based on your review I feel I was correct in putting it down. It probably has appeal for others, but didn’t engage me as a reader.
Borbala11th June 2021
Charles, I love that you grew gladioli at primary school. And Kay s book sounds delightful, a cross between Montaigne and Monty Don, who could resist! You have just given me the perfect idea for a gift I am due to buy.