Charles Lambert's debut novel, The Children's Home, defies easy description. I found it to be unsettling throughout, gripping in the first half, and unsatisfying toward the end. I appreciated Lambert's crafting of the novel, the characterizations, the dialogue. He sets a timeless, gothic tone, at once in a conceivable past and in a foreseeable future.
When a wealthy recluse takes in children who appear mysteriously at his estate, he takes their arrivals in stride. Their presence begins as an interesting diversion that makes little difference to his lifestyle. Ultimately, however, his life is forever changed because of them. Morgan is wealthy, because of the business his grandfather built, and reclusive, because of a disfiguring incident that causes him to shut himself off from the prying eyes of the world.
In spite of his face, at which most people are appalled, the children accept him unconditionally. When he asks the local doctor to come examine the children, the doctor accepts Morgan's appearance and the two men become fast friends.
Shortly the children begin directing Morgan's life, rather than the other way around, and things become more muddled. Lambert hints at the devastation of war and a breakdown of society, about which Morgan remains ignorant due to his seclusion on his walled estate. When Morgan, under the direction of the children, ventures to his family's factory, the odd state of things there boggles his mind (as well as mine).
The mystery of the children's origin, their strange behavior, and the discoveries they make in the secret part of Morgan's house all drive the story in unexpected directions. The story's brooding development gives it more weight than it seems to deserve. The activity at the factory seems to hold part of the key to the mystery of the children, but Lambert's description of the factory is so bizarre and elusive that I couldn't be sure what point he was making.
The Children's Home is certainly an enjoyable read, yet as the story builds it becomes more and more shaky. As Lambert demonstrates, introducing a strange and mysterious events is much easier than providing a purposeful and meaningful direction for those events.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!