Florence and Giles – John Harding

When I was a teenager, I ended up in the hospital for a couple weeks with a case of meningitis. What’s a girl to do when stuck in bed for that long? Read, obviously. Okay, sleep, medicate, sleep, medicate, repeat, until I was well enough to stay awake but not well enough to go home. This was before the time of ereaders, so my family had to lug stacks of books to and from the hospital for me. The easiest way to do this was to bring Reader’s Digest condensed volumes.

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Four books in one pretty-regular sized volume. This is where I read my first read gothic novel. I’d read ghost stories before, but this was the first real gothic novel. I loved it! And I have no idea what it was called. I’m sure my parents still own it, but they have hundreds of them so I have yet to locate this specific book. Anyway, since that time, I’ve loved a good gothic story. I’ve read a lot of them and I love The Turn of the Screw – which this is clearly mirroring.

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(Not a gothic story – obviously, but this the scary feel I’m looking for)

Florence and Giles should have been right up my alley. Sadly, it was not. This was a very juvenile story. I was expecting YA, not juvenile fiction, so that threw me off from the very beginning. The protagonist, Florence, was much younger than I expected, and her sheltered upbringing made her seem even younger. Her mystery uncle doesn’t think she should learn because she’s a girl, so she teaches herself how to read – this should have grabbed me, but it didn’t. Yes, I love the idea of hiding out in the library and secretly reading, but Florence seemed so haughty about it. And her made up language? It made me insane! It seemed so forced. She changed every noun/adverb/adjective into a verb. It was cute in small doses, but it got aggravating very fast. If there had been less of that, I might have liked Florence more, but as it stands, she was simply an annoying little kid. Almost worse than Giles, whose lack of smarts could have been saved by being precocious, but instead he was just annoying.

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Miss Taylor had the potential to be deliciously evil, but she was so shallowly written. She might have been the previous governess’ ghost? Why? Their first governess was there for like a day. She covered no more than a few pages. She was a silly twit who wanted nothing more than to marry rich. We get a brief overview of her death but come on, where were the details? Why on earth would she want to haunt these children she had no interest in? Miss Taylor was an entirely different character. She was uppity from the very beginning. The night time visits to Giles’ room were creepy. Why was she so obsessed with that boy? Why did she go looking for this job? Nothing is explained in this damn book! And nothing is creepy. There is no scare factor here. There is no suspense. No ghosts. No creepy nighttime noises. Nothing! There is just a little girl with an overactive imagination. Except when she’s carrying Giles back to his bed and gets chloroformed and wakes up in bed with Giles tucked in neatly. She brushes it off as a dream and that’s that. What the F!? And what about the mysterious uncle? He never appears. Why on earth is he even included in the story? He could have been a two sentence side note. What ever happened to the photo album that Florence took from the house keeper’s desk? Did I really miss this many loose ends being tied up or were they just forgotten? If I didn’t have to put up with Florence’s damn language patterns, I might go back and reread the ending and see if I really just tuned all of the answers out.

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The only redeeming moment of the book was the ending. Florence turns out to be a murderous little monster. Not only does she push Miss Taylor down a well, she goes so far as to throw the lady’s luggage down the well and drive the carriage to the train station to make sure it looks like she left. This was great, but it was when she just sat there and watched Theo die from an asthma attack and then dumped him on the lane that really clinched the only sinister moment of book. Florence will to do anything to make sure Giles stays with her. I fear for that little boy’s future, but I wasn’t scared of this house or the things that happened in it. If you’re looking for a good gothic novel, stick with The Fall of The House of Usher, The Séance, The Italian, or even Northanger Abbey – for a flip on the gothic tale. Hell, go watch the 2012 Christmas episode of Doctor Who. There’s a creepy governess. Maybe if you’re looking to introduce younger readers to gothic stories, this is a good one – just make sure they don’t start speaking like Florence.

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