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May 24, 2010 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Florence and Giles by John Harding

Having taken ENGL114, I can tell you with considerable expertise that this is a gothic novel, and it epitomises everything about the genre—the unreliable narrator, the vulnerable female fighting supernatural forces, and the potential for misinterpretation at every corner.

Set in 1891, Florence and Giles is the story of 12-year-old Florence and her half brother Giles, both orphans and left to grow up in seclusion at an austere New England mansion. Forbidden education by her (guardian) uncle, Florence teaches herself to read and prostitutes her literacy by devouring anything she can get her hands on during secret visits to the mansion’s library. She and Giles have a swell old time running wild and whatnot, until their uncle decides the time is right to install a governess, who promptly drowns in an eerie, almost unexplained accident. Her replacement is Miss Taylor, a mysterious woman who, according to Florence, inhabits mirrors, walks on water, and plans to kidnap Giles, who she’s developed a boa constrictor-like attachment to.

There’s something sinister going on and it isn’t just The Turn of the Screw salutations. Florence herself is one of life’s straight talkers. She comes off as a sort of mischievous Hermione Granger, all precocious and shit, but like any neglected child she’s a little too clever for her own good, and as it turns out, everyone else is good too.

Beware her idiosyncratic writing style—as narrator Florence has us all at her mercy and the entire story is seasoned with made-up words that turn nouns in to verbs (case in point: “I downstairsed quick”). The book is actually quite good, beginning as a nineteenth century Nancy Drew story and ending as a velveteen warning that even sweet orphaned kids can be evil masterminds.


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