I love the thrill of being scared and feeling the tiny hairs at the top of my neck sticking out but this is the only book I’ve ever read that I’ve actually had to put down for a full week before returning to finish it!
I discovered Jonathan Aycliffe in my favourite place in the world, my local library! Jonathan’s novel A Silence of Ghosts was the first gem of his that I discovered. I practically skipped out of the library with the find. Set during the blitz in London an injured soldier and his deaf ten year old sister are sent to the lake district to a family house for safety. This is essentially a haunted house story with a romance and mystery at the heart of the story. The most unsettling feature for that story was the dead children in the house communicating with the profoundly deaf Octavia, leaving an unsettling feeling with the reader long after the book is finished. Ghosts of children have always left me with this feeling and are the only theme which can truly scare me in any media, be it film or book.
When I finished a Silence of Ghosts I felt lost and was hungry for more of his material. I managed to grab a copy of Naomi’s Room the very next day at the library. I can’t believe I’d never heard of his books before up to a couple of months ago. Naomi’s Room is considered among one of the finest English ghost stories, in the realms of Susan Hill and The Woman in Black (which is another excellent ghost story).
The novel starts with Charles Hillebrand reflecting back on his life, marriage to Laura and the birth of their daughter Naomi. The book quickly reveals that Naomi is no longer alive and was murdered at four years of age on Christmas Eve on a trip to London with Charles in 1970. This in itself is the stuff of nightmares and sets the tone for more terror to come. It is at this point of the story that that it becomes apparent that Charles is not only grief stricken but is also a terrified prisoner in his own home. It was at this point that the supernatural and psychological terror of the book took over and that I had to stop reading the book for a while. I couldn’t get the unsettling image of his visits from the ghosts of his past out of my head. Again it was the aspect of a vulnerable child featured in a horrific ghostly tale that scared the crap out of me. With the tiny hairs raised on the back of my neck I put down my book and quickly turned to some light-hearted television to distract myself. That didn’t stop the images running through my brain – books are so much more effective than film at delivering gruesome imagery to our brains.
After a week I felt I was ready to pick up the book again and continue with the story. The book gripped me until the very end and the twist at the end of the tale shocked me. This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read and the prose is excellent. I can’t wait to read more of Aycliffe’s books and highly recommend both of them.