Rebecca F.John: The Haunting of Henry Twist
Published By: Serpent’s Tail
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
London, 1926: Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife leaves home to meet a friend. On the way, she is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is left with nothing but his new daughter – a single father in a world without single fathers. He hurries the baby home, terrified that she’ll be taken from him. Racked with guilt and fear, he stays away from prying eyes, walking her through the streets at night, under cover of darkness.
But one evening, a strange man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says that he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. His mannerisms, some things he says … And so Henry wonders, has his wife returned to him? Has he conjured Jack himself from thin air? Or is he in the grip of a sophisticated con man? Who really sent him?
Set in a postwar London where the Bright Young Things dance into dawn at garden parties hosted by generous old Monty, The Haunting of Henry Twist is a novel about the limits and potential of love and of grief. It is about the lengths we will go to to hold on to what is precious to us, what we will forgive of those we love, and what we will sacrifice for the sake of our own happiness.
What I Say:
From the start of this novel, you have a sense of foreboding, that the vivid and detailed descriptions of Ruby making her way through the streets of London are not going to end well. Ruby, who is pregnant, is knocked down by a bus, but her baby, Libby is delivered and survives.
After the shock of Ruby’s death, her husband Henry comes to terms with not only losing the wife he loved so much, but facing the overwhelming prospect of raising his child alone. A child that they both wanted so badly. As a widower and a single father, Henry finds himself struggling to cope, whilst determined to ensure Libby stays with him.
One night he sees a man standing outside his flat, staring up at him. As the days merge into nights, and he has to keep going for the sake of his daughter, Henry finds himself becoming intrigued by the stranger outside. One night, the man introduces himself to Henry as Jack Turner, and confesses he only knows his name, and that he knows Henry.
Henry immediately feels a real connection to Jack that he can’t explain, and invites Jack to stay with him. From a reader’s perspective, I felt that Henry was searching for something to fill the void left by Ruby, and that you are aware Henry feels himself pulled inextricably towards Jack. It is as if Jack somehow embodies the spirit of Ruby, something that is brought even more into focus as Henry sees Jack has bruises in the same place Ruby would have where she was struck by the bus. Henry cannot explain what draws him so fiercely to Jack, but as they spend more time together, it is as if there is an unstoppable force that propels them towards each other.
As the novel progresses, Ruby’s best friend, Matilda, it transpires also has an interest in Henry, and not a platonic one. Matilda is married to Grayson, but their marriage seems to be very dull and simply plods along in a day-to-day co-existence as she desperately searches for the passion and desire she feels is lacking. As Matilda discovers that Henry has decided to raise Libby on his own, her own desires to have a child, which has not happened in her marriage, means that she considers the possibility of offering to take Libby from Henry to raise with Grayson.
Jack and Henry move ever closer together, and Henry asks Jack to move in with him. The men become lovers, relishing in the force of love and passion that they feel. However at the same time, they understand that this love is not acceptable to many and they try to keep their love hidden confined to Henry’s flat. They contentedly exist for a while in their secluded bubble, enjoying the seclusion and happiness that new lovers feel. They are unwittingly discovered entwined around each other when Matilda sees them through the curtains of the flat, just as she has gathered enough courage to declare her love for Henry.
Played against a vibrant background of London in the 1920’s with the emergence of the Bright Young Things, they all love their gregarious friend called Monty, who is the epicentre of the London party scene. Monty is aware of the relationships between Henry and Jack, and tries to discourage Matilda from causing them harm.
Matilda’s anger blinds her to understanding that Henry is again truly happy, and she is determined to destroy Jack for taking Henry away from her. To say more would give away the plot, but Matilda is unwavering in her desire to expose Jack for everything she believes he is. When this fails, she is left to face the reality of her empty marriage, and to realise that the love Henry and Jack have for each other is not constrained by their pasts, or what is considered the ‘right’ thing to do in society. Love is love.
The Haunting of Henry Twist is not a classic ghost story, the ‘haunting’ is more to do with Henry’s emotions and the massive life changing events he has to deal with and reconcile himself to. Henry struggles to allow himself to love Jack, but when he finally does, the reader is only aware of how all-consuming and powerful a force that is.
For me, this novel was about so many things; love, death, grief, hope and the idea that love is love, no matter what it is, or what barriers one has to overcome to truly feel it.