The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story
The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story
Something woke me up again. A sigh? A movement? When I opened my eyes, it was just like the night before: the moon-light filtering in the open window, the curtains stirring in the warm summer breeze.
And someone beside me in the bed. Sleeping. That hum of another person’s presence slowly bringing me to consciousness.
Again I felt my whole body freeze and my breath stop.
The ghost murmured something in her sleep and I could feel her turning over. I summoned my courage from wherever it had fled to with my breath and, with great effort, managed to turn my head to look at her.
Her eyes were open, staring into mine. Green.
I opened my mouth, and she swiftly put a finger to my lips. “Don’t scream,” she said. “You’ll disappear again if you scream.”
The idea of screaming dissolved. She was real. Her fingers felt warm, and I could feel her breath. She smelled faintly of roses.
“Who are you?” I finally whispered.
She took her finger away and grinned. Her eyes were dancing.
“I’m Fizz” she said.
“Are you a ghost?” I whispered. I still couldn’t quite catch my breath.
She wrinkled up her nose. “I don’t think so. Are you?”
When Alice’s father can’t make the much anticipated family vacation due to work demands, instead of a vacation, Alice finds herself accompanying her mother to an imposing atmospheric manor in the countryside. Here, her mother has accepted a live-in nursing position, caring for Mrs. Bishop, a fussy elderly lady. On her first night there, Alice wakes to find a young girl lying beside her, identical to doll that Lily, the daughter of the daily help had loaned her with permission from Mrs. Bishop.
Confused by this sinister incident Alice confides in her new friend Lily who had also seen the same ‘ghost.’ Later, they explore the attic and find a dollhouse, an exact replica of the main house. The doll residents come alive and things move in the dollhouse even when no one is there, moves that are sometimes replicated in the manor. Alice is upset and confused, not understanding if she is seeing ghosts or who the dollhouse characters represent.
With great pace and an inviting writing style, The Dollhouse, a combination of Gothic mystery and time-travel between two eras, has plenty of tension and atmosphere. With the puzzling nature of the dollhouse and that of its perfect larger 1920’s counterpart, doll characters that come alive, dreams that seem real in every detail and the irascible elderly patient who seems familiar to Alice, readers are bound to be mystified by the alarming incidents she experiences. Equally frightening is Alice’s confusion over the reality of these occurrences. Are these things really happening? Could they be a product of her overactive imagination, anxiety regarding her parent’s relationship, or the result of a minor concussion sustained on her recent train journey?
Contrasting with the atmospheric mystery and setting is the down-to-earth normalcy of Alice’s mother and the happy presence of a new friend Lily, who, older than Alice, is slightly developmentally delayed. Alice is realistically portrayed as loving, intelligent, curious and very much aware of her predicament, and the reader feels part of her experience.
The Dollhouse is a page-turner with an ingenious plot, evocative setting, enriching detail and lots of action that young readers will certainly enjoy.
Aileen Wortley is a retired Children’s Librarian from Toronto, Ontario.