The Haunting of Henry Twist

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Jul 2017

Member Reviews

Despite its title, Rebecca John’s The Haunting of Henry Twist isn’t a ghost story in the traditional sense but it does have an ethereal feel to it, and is likely to haunt you long after finishing it.

Ruby Twist’s story is told in flashback after the first chapter in The Haunting of Henry Twist but she still stamps her presence on the whole book, as Henry grapples with her sudden death and his subsequent grief. Ruby’s friends feel her loss keenly too and it’s moving to discover what it is they miss about her.

Ruby’s ghost doesn’t waft about their home, unwilling to move on. But hints of her resurface in Jack, which is considerably more disconcerting. Despite his physicality, Jack’s a hard character to pin down: he often feels more will-o’-the-wisp than human and you question whether his role is sinister or benign.

Significant scenes take place under cover of night, such as Henry’s nocturnal rambles with his baby to avoid detection and Monty’s garden parties, which Henry and his friends attend, but that are held for the benefit of the Bright Young Things, who flicker and flare up like 1920s versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s cohort of muddling mechanics, mischievous Puck, and Titania and Oberon’s fairy attendants.

To balance out this otherworldliness, Rebecca John gives us Ruby’s Welsh roots; upstairs neighbours who bring some comfort and sense of normality when Henry’s first starting out as a single parent; the simple rhythm and routine of daily life with a baby, and that larger one of the city continuing around them.

As we learn more about Henry and his friends, we see how his grief and their own forces them all to appraise their lives. We discover there are secrets and grievances, jealousies and understandable cracks in what at first appears to be a close-knit group. Sympathies may sway but Rebecca John cleverly causes these to shift throughout The Haunting of Henry Twist and these flaws only make you long for Henry to find his way through. That, and you resolve to be kinder to people, especially the Matildas of this world.

The Haunting of Henry Twist is as much about love as it is about loss and grief: the people who burn so brightly, they sear themselves onto our very souls, and how much we open ourselves up to others and the possibilities that accompany them. Rebecca John’s measured, rhythmic description lulls you into the gentle pace of The Haunting of Henry Twist, quietly coaxing Henry through his grief and guilt to make a life, a love, a home, something out of what’s left. A moving historical debut written with empathy and warmth.
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This book is about love in different forms and about different types of relationship. It is also about grief and loss. Is Jack a conman? Does Henry only see what he wants to? This book tells their story. Henry was very much in love with Ruby. Henry insists on bringing up their daughter Libby. Overall this book is a good read. I felt it was slow in places and it seemed to take a while to get across some of the story.
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