The Children's Home By: Charles Lambert
Review by: Mark Palm
I couldn’t resist the pun.
It’s not just cute, but it’s apt as well. The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert is one of those books that elude categorization and sits uneasily yet properly somewhere between Fantasy, Allegory and Fairy Tale. Just remember that Fairy tales can be quite dark at times, and you should be prepared for this spare and dream-like novel.
Morgan Fletcher is severely disfigured, is the heir to a mysterious fortune and lives is a massive estate, and has been a willing recluse for years, since his mother died. He spends his days in his quiet study, avoiding his reflection and reading, with only his housekeeper Engel for company.
Then one day two children, Moira and David suddenly appear, and Morgan takes them in, with few questions. Suddenly more and more children begin to show up, some in ways that seem to defy reality, only the details of the world of this novel are so sparse that it might not be the case. Morgan enjoys the children because they are not bothered by his appearance. When one of the children gets sick Engel brings the nearest physician, Doctor Crane, who is so kind and decent that Morgan overcomes his shyness and the two become friends. Eventually the Doctor gets his own room and begins to spend a great deal of time at the house. The children, however, are getting stranger and stranger. They seem to know a great deal about Morgan’s past, and when some sinister emissaries from a vaguely threatening State agency appear, it seems like the children literally disappear into thin air, making Morgan question his sanity.
Some of the children's actions and the discoveries that they make in the house are wonderfully creepy, and somewhat disturbing, but also quite obscure. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this novel was also one of its problems; it’s dream-like quality. There were times when reading The Children’s Home when I felt like I was hallucinating while watching a surrealist play on a blank stage.
Now it turns out that the children are at Morgan’s home for a reason, and he helps them near the end of the book, when he leads the children in an eerie trip to the Factory that his sister runs that has been the family business for years. I can tell you little without dropping spoilers, but also because the whole thing is so hard to pin down with any certainty, and while that ambiguity gives the book it’s unique quality it also can be frustrating, particularly for those of us who are not overly fond of allegory. I usually don’t like to have to search for”meanings” in my stories, but I found that I enjoyed this book more for the invention and the creepiness and not so much for the search for symbolism.
Mr. Lambert is at his best in his evocation of the mundane physical realities of this world, which makes the odd moments stand out with greater clarity and greater effect. My interest wavered a bit when the characters questioned what was happening, and I think were best served when they just went with the trippy flow. While I didn’t think The Children’s Home was an overwhelming success I certainly do applaud its audacity and originality, and I hope that it finds an audience.