The Tutor – Bonnie Dee
Gothic romance with a twist.
Elements of The Sound of Music, The Enchanted Garden, Jane Eyre, and “true” ghost hunting shows make this story feel familiar. Gay love makes it unique.
Seeing an ad for a position at a Yorkshire estate, typesetter Graham Cowrie decides to make an upward career move by passing himself off as a tutor. How hard can it be to teach a few subjects to a pair of nine-year-old boys? But on his arrival at the ancient house, he finds the staff creepy, the twins odd, and the widowed master temporarily absent.
His first meeting with brooding, stern, but oh-so-attractive, Sir Richard doesn’t go well, but with no other prospects vying for the teaching position, Graham manages to keep it. His mission soon becomes clear, break down the walls of reserve both father and sons have erected and attempt to bridge the gap between them.
But strange sounds, sights and experiences keep Graham on edge until he finally admits the Hall is haunted by two entities with very different agendas. Graham works to appease one and combat the other while protecting the broken family he’s grown to care for.
This seems like a book where there should be a person on the cover running away from a foreboding manor while looking back. However instead of a woman, it should be that book model above. Rowan Mcallister’s We Met in Dreams had one such cover.
The Tutor is a Gothic novel without the deep, complicated prose of the Gothic classics. It is dark, atmospheric and creepy but the scare factor is blunted by the irreverent humor and blase attitude of the almost always cheery Graham Cowrie. Graham is, in his own words, a jovial, affable person with an active imagination. He really is. He tends to be cheeky even to the ghostly voice of the dead wife, Lavinia, in his head.
He laughs at the face of spirit possession.
Graham, whom I suspect is an atheist, seems to only half believe this ghost business the entire time even when he was looking for ways to exorcise the spirits. I liked this side of him. His personality was what carried the book to the end.
Richard Allinson is a dour, sad man who is terrible at dealing with his traumatized sons. I don’t know what attracted Graham to him other than he is handsome and he pinged on Graham’s gaydar. That and their mutual love of books perhaps. Whatever the case I think Richard and his equally sad sons need a ray of sunshine in their lives and if Graham is it, then who I am to say otherwise. Graham certainly loved playing the coquette with Richard and Richard wasn’t so bad after having all his USTs resolved.
Whitney and Clive are nine-year old twin boys grieving the loss of their mother. Clive does not speak because of the trauma and Whitney is the one who speaks for both of them. At first, they try to drive Graham away with pranks and tricks but Graham won them over with his fun, inventive lessons and masterful story telling. Juggling the responsibilities of tutor, nursemaid and caretaker, Graham tries to keep young active minds occupied, help the boys get over their loss and try to reconcile them with their father. All that is missing in this scenario is a talk about favorite things and making play clothes out of draperies.
Allinson Hall is exactly the kind of house with a name I want to get lost in, minus the malevolent spirit. Can you imagine all the secret places you can discover?! As much a character as a setting, the hall is dark, gloomy and cold and infects its inhabitants with melancholy so profound they kill themselves. It doesn’t help that it rains all the time and nobody seems to have an umbrella.
The resolution was cliche. I keep thinking maybe we will get an ending where all these mysterious happenings would be explained by perfectly logical, non-supernatural means but Bonnie Dee went ahead with the ghosts, evil spirits and Exorcism 101 techniques. Funnily enough, Graham still seems to be taking things a bit too lightly. He really is the best guy to take when exploring haunted houses.
By itself, the story was moderately enjoyable but I could definitely say the experience was made better because of narrator, Ruri Carter, whose dry comments and occasional profanity as heard through Graham’s acquired posh accent seemed funnier than they actually are. When a plummy voice says “fuck”, I imagined this is how William sounds like when he says “Fuck you, Harry! I’m next in line.”
This is only my second book from Bonnie Dee and though I liked The Fortune Hunter slightly better, I think The Tutor an OK book to start with if you want to get into her works.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Soundtrack: Give Up the Ghost
Album: The King of Limbs
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Soundtrack to The Tutor by Bonnie Dee