The Children’s Home | Author: Charles Lambert | Rating: 9.5/11
Reviewed by Crescenda Long
The lighthearted interpretations of the Disney franchise have stripped away most of what is dark and lurid about traditional fairytales, and these whimsical versions are what most people know. Readers have been trained to expect sweet princesses in sparkling gowns, villains more misunderstood than evil, and a universe which guarantees a ‘happily ever after’ to all its good and kind denizens. But for those who prefer their fairytales in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Lambert has crafted an exquisitely strange and deliciously dark offering in his latest novel, The Children’s Home.
After a tragic accident leaves him disfigured, Morgan Fletcher locks himself away in his family home. More ghost than man, he haunts the halls of the mansion, terrified of being seen and consorting only with his housekeeper, Engel. And then the children start to arrive. One by one, young children are left on the doorstep or mysteriously appear in the gardens surrounding the property. Engel and Morgan never seriously question their arrival, mysterious as it is. They care for the children with unconditional affection. Morgan even goes so far as to befriend a stranger – the equally accepting Doctor Crane – when one of the children falls ill. But it soon becomes apparent that the dozens of youths wandering the property are looking for something, and that they will do whatever it takes to achieve their mysterious goal.
The morality in this story is present but covert, and its heartwarming moments are cleverly woven into and around its terrifying ones. The subtlety of the writing is truly remarkable. Lambert is undeniably a master of suspense. He provides just enough detail to bring his world to life, but is able to tantalize his readers most with what he doesn’t say. Where and when the story takes place remains unclear. Who the children are and why they’ve chosen to visit Morgan is hinted at, but not entirely explained, either. There’s a dystopian flavor to the story, but it is difficult to say exactly why that is or where it comes from. Rather than detracting from the tale, this dearth of information cleverly enhances the overall mood and leaves readers guessing right up to the final page. In the best fairytale tradition, The Children’s Home ends with a beginning, and leaves readers puzzling over the outcome long after the conclusion. Lambert may not be as well-established in this genre as some of his counterparts are, but this novel proves that he ought to be. He has crafted a ghost story of the finest caliber, in that the narrative itself will haunt his readers well beyond the margins of its pages.
Fans of Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker will really enjoy this haunting, refreshingly strange novel. Part ghost story, part cautionary dystopian narrative, and glossed with a fine veneer of magical realism, The Children’s Home is a modern fairytale in the oldest sense of the word. Readers may never know exactly what the children are after, or whether or not they will find it. But like Morgan and Dr. Crane, the effects of this wonderfully disturbing encounter will linger far beyond the book’s final sentence.
You can learn more about Charles Lambert and his work at his website.