Book Review: The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert
For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.
In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.
Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque – as well as the glimmers of goodness – buried deep within the soul.
Have you ever felt like you’re are just too dumb to understand a book? The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert made me feel like that. The first half was interesting. A disfigured recluse, Morgan, suddenly finds his home full of mysterious children, who come to him in ways he can’t quite figure out. They offer Morgan acceptance through their innocence and a connection to the world beyond his estate and the high walls that surround it. But the children are peculiar and seem to have an objective that Morgan cannot figure out. They do not act as he thinks children should act and have an uncanny ability to know when their noise is not wanted and when danger is near. Then the story takes a sharp left into weirdville and lost me.
The Children’s Home had a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I really loved Morgan. He is an interesting main character. He drifts through the house like a ghost until events force him to reattach to the world. The kids are creepy. We’re not sure if they are or aren’t a product of Morgan’s lonely imagination. It has a gothic setting in a world apparently ravaged by some disaster or war, a world we’re not sure still exists outside the estate’s walls. There was a period where I thought the world had ended and Morgan was the last person alive, everyone in the manor a product of his mind. The tense and eerie atmosphere is chilling and a delight. But the second half is incomprehensible.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the second half is supposed to mean. Is there a wider meaning to the vague World War 2 gas chamber reference? Is it commentary on how we are (literally in this case) sucking the life out of the younger generations just to keep functioning as a society? Is there something with parallel universes going on that is in no way explained at all? Is David some sort of messiah? Are the children some work of a magical source? As Morgan asked himself many times in the story, who are these children?
The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert has some compelling and violent imagery. The events are unsettling and memorable. It is a sinister gothic horror but lacks resolution into a satisfying whole. The reader becomes impatient with the children’s evasiveness and we have no resolution by the end. We are left just as clueless as we started. We are given no context during the story and learn no details of the state of the world or the source or purpose of the puzzling children. In all, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert left me confused and unsettled, wondering, like the characters, if I had somehow missed the point.
Posted on March 22, 2016, in book review, books, fantasy, fiction, mystery and tagged 2016, book review, books, Charles Lambert, formless ending, horror, mystery, The Children's Home. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.