The Children’s Home, by Charles Lambert, is an allegorical tale written by an accomplished weaver of words. The prose is sparse yet perceptive. The surreal aspects leave much of the detail open for reader interpretation but the arc is clear, and disturbing. If we open our eyes to that which is happening all around we risk comprehending the wickedness of the world and may be forever changed.
Morgan Fletcher lives the life of a recluse in his large and rambling home set within its own extensive grounds behind high walls. He is disfigured and allows himself to be seen by no one except his housekeeper, Engel, who ensures that other staff members keep their distance. He is aware that the world outside his walls is violent and troubled. He assumes that rumours of his monstrous looks have encouraged others to stay away.
Morgan spends his time reading and writing, finding solace in the books left to him by his late parents and the grandfather whose wealth built the house and family business. This is now run by his co-beneficiary, a sister he never sees.
The story opens with the arrival of a baby girl, left on the kitchen steps and found by Engel. They decide to take her in, rightly surmising that she would be better off with them than with the Department of Welfare in the city. Soon other children start arriving, some with labels tied to them giving names, others old enough to speak their monikers. The children’s origins are unclear.
Morgan delights in having these youngsters in his house. Engel is eager to care for them although they are so well behaved this is not an arduous task.
When one of the little girls becomes ill, Doctor Crane is summoned from the city. Initially shy of this stranger Morgan hides but is persuaded to show himself after subsequent visits. The two men become friends.
The children’s behaviour is precocious and uncanny, especially that of the eldest boy, David. He becomes the de facto leader, and it is he who decides that Morgan should leave the safety of his seclusion. Officials have visited the house threatening to take the children away and action is required.
Various tropes are explored: lack of parental love; concern over outward appearance when valued as a trophy rather than the person one could otherwise become; how much esteem is bound up in others’ perceptions; how one will look away rather than do what is right if this could threaten a comfortable lifestyle.
The story demonstrates how fulfilling it is to assist an individual, especially if something personal is gained. There is desire for payment, be it friendship, admiration or gratitude. Returns are diluted if the results are imperceptible.
Likewise, when the cost of inaction is brought up close and personal the horror cannot be avoided, which is perhaps why so many choose to wear blinkers and construct walls.
The denouement was cleverly done, offering potential explanations whilst allowing scope for reader inference. The potting shed brought to mind our education system. Monsters wear masks for propriety, first defining what that is.
A compelling tale that is neither straightforward nor simple to deconstruct. For those, like me, who enjoy peeling back layers and being challenged to think it offers a hugely satisfying read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Aardvark Bureau.