An inexperienced twenty-one year old girls dream transforms into a nightmare. She’s all alone. But she doesn’t run away screaming. That’s old fashioned girl power! The setup in ‘This house is haunted’ reminds a lot of Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the screw’, but John Boyne proves with his strong characters that gothic fiction can be taken to another even more delightful level.

by Peter


‘This house is haunted’


John Boyne



Reading Level:


First Published:

April 25th 2013

Publisher, this copy:

Other Press

Feelings Thermometer:

In London 1867 twenty-one year old Eliza Cayne works as a school teacher for the small girls. But one night after attending a speech with Charles Dickens himself, Eliza looses her beloved father due to the wet and cold London weather.

Eliza needs a change of scene, and when a position as a governess at Gaudlin Hall in the beautiful Norfolk is advertised in the London paper, she decides to apply

Without even an interview, Eliza gets the job at once, and by train she travels for the little town. Already at the train station peculiar things start happening. Someone pushes Eliza in the back so she almost falls onto the tracks in front of a departing train. And when she arrives at Gaudlin Hall, the two children, she’s supposed to look after – Eustace and his bigger sister Isabella – are left completely alone in the big house, not even with a servant to look after them.

Eustace and Isabella are full of secrets and Eliza becomes puzzled. Where are the childrens parents, and why does the only maid leave every morning, just before Eliza gets up? Eliza has more than a feeling that something is terrible wrong both in the old house and in the little town, where people behave like they have a common secret they might – or might not – wanna spare.

Then Gaudlin Hall welcomes Eliza Caine in a very special way!

Modern Gothic Fiction

‘This house is haunted’ is an old fashioned ghost story written in 2013 by John Boyne, the author of ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. The story is told in a warm tone, like it were a Dickens story or an episode of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and it can be categorized like a modern copy of the Gothic Fiction genre (Literature that combines fiction, horror and Romanticism.)

Too much ‘The turn of the screw’?

When Eliza arrived at Gaudlin Hall, the setup reminded me a bit of ‘Jane Eyre’ and maybe too much of Henry James’ novel from 1898 ‘The turn of the screw’: two children, a boy and a girl are supposed to being look after by a another governess in the masters absence.

And I did like ‘The turn of the screw’ very much. Despite this, surprisingly John Boyne makes ‘This house is haunted’ his own story. Not only Eliza Cayne, but also Eustace and Isabella, felt stronger and with more personality, than the the unnamed governess and the children Miles and Flora in ‘The turn of the screw’.

Of course there are more than a hundred years between the writing of the two novels, and even though ‘The turn of the screw’ has been rewritten several times into a more modern language, I felt that John Boyne had a great advantage.

Excerpt from ‘This house is haunted’
I noticed the boy, Eustace, stiffen slightly as I made reference to his parents but chose not to remark on it. The little girl, however, allowed her demeanour to slip a little and she bit her lip and looked away with an expression appoaching, but not quite reaching, embarassment.
“Poor Eliza Caine,” she said. “I’m afraid you’ve been brought here under false pretences. That is a phrase, isn’t it”? she added. “I read it in a book recently and rather liked the sound of it.”
“It is a phrase, yes,” I said. “Although I don’t think it can mean what you think it means. I’ve been hired to be your governess. Your father placed the advertisment in the Morning Post.” I didn’t care what Heckling had said; the notion that the previous governess had placed the notice was quite absurd.
“He didn’t, as it happens,” said the girl lightly, and now Eustace turned and pressed his small body against hers, and she put an arm around him.

Felt I had a great responsibility for Isabella and Eustace, too

The more pages I turned, the more I got to like Eliza and the children, and I really felt I had a great responsibility, too, for those two adorable children. Actually, I almost envied Eliza her position, because I always wanted to take a time warp into the middle of the nineteenth century, and even better if the destination was a noble haunted house with two delightful siblings I had to look after.

Also it was quite fun to be stuck in a period of time, where rumours controlled the daily social life in the town, and were I finally could get rid of the “Call 999! Oh noooo, there’s no more battery”-part!

That’s old fashioned girl power!

I’m absolutely a sucker for gothic fiction ghost stories, that builds up slowly and doesn’t get our of hand, and this is one. Eliza never acts stupid neither hysterical like teen characters in modern horror movies, even though she has to struggle with pretty frightening experiences, and maybe that’s the main reason why I really loved ‘This house is haunted’.