The Ghost of Gosswater has all the makings of a classic Gothic children’s book. Sublime, dramatic landscapes of the Lake District line Agatha’s quest to uncovering the truth. From the leering manor house, unforgiving mountains, to the misty lake surrounding the Asquith burial island.
On the 21st of December 1899, Lady Agatha Asquith is ousted from her childhood home. Twelve years settled in Gosswater Hall are torn apart after the death of the Earl brings to light an uncomfortable truth. Agatha is not the legitimate heir of the family estate; her unscrupulous Cousin Clarence has inherited the home, who delights in revealing that the Earl and Countess were never her real parents. Alone and questioning all that she has known, Agatha steals a family heirloom before being sent to live with a goose farming stranger said to be her father. Whilst Agatha is desperate to find out how she became separated from her family, Thomas is unreadable and unable to look beyond his daughter’s privileged upbringing. But on the turn of the century, the shape of a girl appears outside of Gosswater Hall. With the race to discover the truth of her past tailed by Cousin’s Clarence’s eagerness for power, will Agatha find out who the ghost really is?
Strange’s writing provides children with a masterclass in using setting to create atmosphere and tension, as well as offering a rather chilling read aloud. Amidst the glorious Gothic settings, the theme of identity continually resurfaces and invites readers to question how people are shaped by their early beginnings. After falling from the aristocracy, our heroine Agatha is forced to search beneath her privileged past to find out what is important to her. I particularly enjoyed how Strange plays with liminality to drive the narrative and increase the complexity of her protagonist. Agatha’s search for the truth reaches a turning point at midnight, during the transition between the 19th and 20th century. Here, she becomes caught between being the Lady of a manor and the girl from a farm, and teeters on the cusp of change from that point onwards. This evolving identity, not wholly being one thing or the other, would be a rich point for debating in the classroom. What is wonderful about this story is that the reader remains in the same position as Agatha throughout. We are kept guessing about how the protagonist came to Gosswater Hall up until the very end, and Strange does a fantastic job of keeping us in constant suspense.
It is easy to be swept away by Agatha’s adventure and embroiled in her Cousin Clarence’s scheming plans. The Ghost of Gosswater would make a fantastic class read for pupils in Year Six. I am sure that children will enjoy exploring the classic Gothic tropes that Strange sprinkles throughout the tale, and experimenting with these within their own writing. There are cliffhangers aplenty and the mysteries are carried so brilliantly by Strange’s storytelling, which is raw and thrilling all at once.
Lucy Strange talks to Nikki Gamble In The Reading Corner
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