July 14, 2014
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Molly and Kip aren’t sure what to expect when they arrive at the mansion where Molly has been hired as the maid, but it certainly isn’t what they find.
The first trick is in getting there. No one in the vicinity will tell them how to get through the sour woods to the Windsor’s mansion. At best, they give only vague directions. More often than not, they mutter vague warnings then say no more.
It isn’t until the siblings encounter a tiny old woman carrying a pack that they final get the directions they need. A storyteller, Hetty agrees to help them out on one condition. Molly has to tell her what they find at the mansion.
As they travel through a forest where no birds sing and no animal hum, Molly wonders what Hetty expects to hear.
Then they catch their first sight of the house — a structure that is as dark and delapidated as the massive tree that grows around and through it. They make their way across a yard covered with row upon row of shallow hills to the front door.
Molly gets to work, cleaning the massive home, serving her new mistress and cooking the meals. Kip busies himself in the yard, whipping the gardens into shape but avoiding the big tree which has been warned by their mistress never to touch. The children’s aren’t sure how but somehow they know that this tree is at the heart of the mysteries that surround this grim family. Why is everyone so listless and pale? Why has their hair gone dark and lank? And why is Molly’s doing the same?
This isn’t blood and guts horror but horror of a more traditional sense – ominous, moody and dark. Mytery and magic. Tone and timber. The sour woods are a creepy place.
But this is still a solidly middle grade story. Yes, there are human villains. Yes, they threaten people and people do get hurt (I’m not saying who or how or why) but it isn’t a gory story. It is all about the atmosphere which only begins to lighten when Kip and Molly face their past, open up to each other and solve the mystery threatening adult and child alike in the Windsor home.
The children are Irish emigrants and the setting is vaguely creepy English manor house. The mood of the book is helped along by dark scratch board styled illustrations by Patrick Arrasmith.
There’s no way this is a beach read, it is far too moody and dark, but it is a fast read and one that should definintely be on the list of young readers who enjoy a spooky tale.