The Room Beyond: more modern gothic than bodice-ripping romance

RoomBeyondThis creepy little mystery maintains almost all of the grand traditions of the Victorian gothic ghost story. It’s set in modern times, with a parallel tale harking back more than a century to an earlier era. In the here-and-now, an eccentric wealthy family hire a troubled young woman to be a nanny / companion for the oddly precocious child of the household. Our heroine, herself orphaned when her parents died in a motor accident, now isolated with few friends or connections and rudderless in her young life, is unusually sensitive to weird things. And no sooner does she arrive at the tall townhouse in achingly fashionable Kensington, than weird things start occurring all around…

 

If this had been written with a heavier hand then it could so easily have lapsed into pastiche or parody, but author Stephanie Elmas plays it damn-near perfectly. The creaking, dusty, dank old houses are full of peculiar paintings, hidden chambers and confusing corridors. The extended family members are by turns beguiling and ominous. And the two stories reflect and tangle their paired narratives together until they unmistakably become one tale; of misery, mystery, corruption, insanity and the supernatural.

 

TRB get a lot of coverage as ‘historical Victorian romance’. That label probably would have stopped me reading it, but happily I downloaded it without noticing that I’d somehow been suckered into reading a ‘romance’!

 

None of TRB is outright shocking or especially scary, but it is delightfully creepy in places. I found a couple of the minor characters, less well defined and fairly unimportant to the plot, a little tricky to keep track of and at one point almost wanted to grab a pencil and start drawing a family tree to keep track of all the relationships. Nevertheless, the alternating-chapters in each time period kept the flow of the story fresh and kept the pages turning. And the story contains so many nods to the genre that it was hard to keep track of them, from the once-grand country house falling into ruin to the near dream sequences in the ghostly garret…

 

Yet Elmas brings something fresh to the genre, too, with a great character who is part psychoanalyst and part stage hypnotist. She comes up with some truly chilling concepts, too, as if by shunning young girl who’d made a most tragic mistake, a family could reduce her very essence to near none-existence; by ignoring her she could almost be made to disappear.

 

A very satisfying tale, one which concluded neatly and tied up an intense knot of relationships and dangling threads. And it’s a story which may cause you to look at house numbers a little more closely, in case a building of bad atmosphere has taken to hiding itself in plain sight…

 

8/10

 

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

 

The Room Beyond is available in ebook and paperback formats

 

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