The Whispering House
reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
The Whispering House is a gothic suspense whose principal character is a house: Byrne Hall. Likened to “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle,” the house has a grand facade and beautiful, well-kept gardens. But enter the house and there is no mistaking how different it is. Byrne Hall is empty of most furniture, the wallpaper is peeling off the walls, and the floor tiles are popping up. Dust and broken things are everywhere.
Freya and her father, a renowned art critic for the London Times, are attending a wedding of a distant cousin at Byrne Hall. Upon arrival they realize that Freya’s sister, the loquacious and coquettish Stella, committed suicide very near this spot. Though all signs indicate “stay out,” Freya enters the hall, hoping for a respite from the overwhelming heat. There she discovers a painting of Stella in the front room, torn to pieces, and put back together like a mosaic. Up until now, her sister’s suicide has remained a mystery. But after seeing that painting, Freya is determined to find out what happened.
Once back home, Freya decides to return to Bligh to see if she can get some answers. Once she arrives, she encounters Cory, a childlike man who asks to draw her. She meets him again once she is in Byrne Hall. He is the son of Diana, a now frail and ailing woman who was once a very famous artist. Diana is now reliant on her son to care for her. She immediately warns Freya of Stella, however, cannot finish her thoughts when Cory arrives. Her voice is heard throughout The Whispering House as “She – Diana – had become the whispering voice of the house. No, more than that, she had become its mind and soul.”
With Cory’s invitation to stay at Byrne Hall and Freya’s desire to find out what really happened to Stella, they fall into an uneasy and complicated relationship, fraught with cruelty and possessiveness. Cory believes he has inherited an amazing talent for drawing and seeks Freya’s help to set up an art show in Byrne Hall, asking her if she can invite her father to review the show for the London Times. Despite her misgivings about his possessiveness, Freya basks in his constant attention and adoration, and is eager for a respite from her boring life in London. Almost too late, she realizes she has fallen into a trap Cory has set, and the plans she puts in place for her escape bring The Whispering House to its shocking conclusion.
Elizabeth Brooks is a genius at creating atmospheres and locations that haunt the reader. With the constant rain and the darkness of Byrne Hall, we are constantly looking around every corner with goosebumps, waiting for something new to come out and scare us. As all the pieces of the puzzle come together at the end, the reader is increasingly aware of a devastating end, with Byrne Hall crumbling all around them.