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Florence and Giles by John Harding

Florence and Giles by John Harding I actually read John Harding’s novel Florence and Giles late last year, and it is a book that I have really been looking forward to reviewing. In some ways it is tricky to review this type of book, as it would be so easy to spoil the suspense by giving too much away. The enjoyment in writing this one though, comes from the way in which it has revived my memories of its lead character, Florence. She really is a rather wonderful creation, and I actually found myself smiling broadly as I typed this.

Strong and creative characterisation is at the heart of the majority of the books I most enjoy reading, so John Harding was already half way there in having me hooked, but a truly good novel obviously needs so much more than this — did Florence & Giles deliver?

Read on for a full review…

-- Florence & Giles by John Harding a Review by Des Greene --

This Gothic story maintains a certain fairy-tale charm from start to finish and, with its ability to raise a smile at any moment, never seems to descend too far into true horror. That said, it does build its sinister nature and suspense beautifully over the course of its two hundred and forty pages.

Orphaned Florence and Giles live in Blithe House, the sprawling mansion of the absent uncle who is their legal guardian. Florence is a likable and inventive twelve year old; so inventive in fact, that the reader can never be too sure how reliable a narrator she actually is. It is her internal private language — she is a lover of Shakespeare and mimics his ability to create entirely new words — that provides much of the charm and humour of the book. There are some absolutely classic lines, which I won’t repeat here for fear of spoiling the delight for you, but at times she had me laughing out loud. Her most important motivations in life, are gaining access to the books which her uncle has forbidden her, and protecting Giles, the younger brother and playmate on whom she dotes.

It is following the untimely and mysterious death of their previous governess, that the arrival of her successor, Mrs Taylor, sparks the ever more sinister chain of events which lead ultimately to murder and also, to the surprising final twist in the tale. In the end though, what is real and what is fabrication? Is Mrs Taylor a wicked witch trying to steal Giles away from his loving sister? Or could it be that Florence’s fertile imagination has simply overflowed into her view of reality?

To sum up then, I don’t really believe it was ever the author’s intention to create a truly dark horror story with this book, and if you were to buy it expecting one, then you might have grounds for disappointment. Instead though, you are treated to a highly entertaining¬† story, beautifully written in a convincing Gothic style, and one which at the same time manages to maintain a lightness and humour throughout. Also, since it doesn’t appear to contain anything that I would consider in any way risque or offensive, I would say that it would make a great book for advanced younger readers.

I enjoyed this novel immensely. It is a small, but perfectly formed, charmer. Highly recommended!

Already read Florence and Giles? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!

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