In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.
Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.
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The Children’s Home
in which Morgan explains the living daylights and the children begin to arrive
The children began to arrive soon after Engel came to the house. It was Engel who found the first one, an infant girl, in a basket, with a bundle of neatly folded, freshly washed clothes. The basket had been left on the steps leading up from the kitchen into the garden. Whoever had put it there must have known the way the house worked, because days might have passed before any of the other doors were opened; left anywhere else, the child would probably have died. As it was, no more than an hour or two had gone by but already the creature was blue with cold. Engel picked her up and held her, the small soft body pressed to her bosom, the small wrinkled face in the warm crook of her neck, for she didn’t know how long; a living daylight was how she described it to Morgan when she brought the baby up to him in his study. Looking across from his reading with amusement, Morgan explained that the living daylights were always plural and that they were supposed to be the part of the human soul most susceptible to fear. She nodded, fervently, that’s exactly right, it just goes on and on. That’s exactly how it was, she said, with the child’s small heart barely beating and the breath like a short hot knife blade on the skin of Engel’s neck. Engel lifted the baby away from her body and held her out to Morgan, who shook his head. She said they should tell someone perhaps, someone would know what to do with her, but Morgan disagreed. Left to himself he might have been tempted, what use did he have for a child, after all? But he could hear that Engel’s heart wasn’t in it. Just look at you both, he said. What could be better than this? Don’t you know how to deal with her as well as anyone? Let her stay here with us, where she will be clothed and fed, and kept out of this wicked weather. At least for a while. Perhaps, he thought, the child’s presence would encourage Engel not to go.
He held her later, when she’d been given milk and changed into fresh clothes from the bundle she’d arrived with; decent hand-sewn clothes, laundered and ironed, made of white cotton. He stroked the soft hair from the fine blue veins of her forehead, the first child he’d ever taken in his arms, and examined his feelings to see if they were altered in any way. He wanted to see if this child would change him; more than anything he wanted that. But what he felt seemed familiar to him; he had felt it before with small animals, kittens, a hamster he’d once been given, the little stagger of a newborn lamb; even with plants, those plants that flowered and had scent, that had touched his heart for a moment before they died. It will take time, he said to himself, only slightly disappointed. Miracles will take time. At least, in the meantime, the child might begin to love him. They called her Moira, which Morgan told Engel meant fate. At which information, Engel sniffed.
Engel watched the two of them, that morning, standing in the center of the kitchen with a bowl of cream in her hand, which she was going to beat and pour on bread pudding for lunch. No waste was allowed in Engel’s world; even week-old bread had its uses. The cream, the color of old lace, came from one of the black-and-white cows that Morgan could see from his room at the top of the house, herds of cows grazing beyond the wall that encircled his own land, as far as the city itself, where his sister ran the factory.
• • •
Other children arrived soon after that, as though Morgan had earned them by taking the first one in. Some were abandoned, as Moira had been, left on the kitchen step, which was now checked hourly; others, he suspected, were given to Engel at the door, by whom, he didn’t know. These were the children who arrived empty-handed. By the end of the third month of Moira’s presence in the house, there were six or seven, he wasn’t sure exactly, of varying ages. Moira remained the youngest. According to Engel, who seemed to know, she couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old when she was left. The oldest among them was a fair-haired boy who walked into the house one day with a cardboard tag—the kind used for parcels—attached to his wrist, on which the name David had been written in a childish hand. Taken immediately to Morgan, he stood up like a little soldier before his desk, stared straight ahead, and announced, in a solemn yet singsong voice, that he was five years old and had no mother or father and would behave well if he was treated well. The ages of the others ranged between these two, Moira and David, whom Morgan regarded as the most precious, perhaps because they were the most easily distinguished; Moira, the first and youngest, and David, with his tag, the eldest.
Some of them came to the house in other ways. One morning, shortly after breakfast, Morgan was standing by the drawing room window and gazing out into the garden when a square of air above the lawn seemed to ripple as though it were silk and a knife had been drawn across it, and a child appeared on the lawn and began to walk towards the house, perfectly confident, it seemed, that she would be received. As she was. Later that day, when no one was likely to see him, Morgan went into the garden to try to find the place, standing on the lawn and testing the air with his hand for some point where its resistance might be weak, until he felt foolish and gave up. Walking back across the lawn, he saw that he had been watched by David, who was standing at the window directly above the drawing room. He waved, and was pleased to see David wave back. Like David, the new girl had a cardboard tag attached to her wrist, which told them her name was Melissa. She looked around the main hall of the house with a contented expression, smiling at David when he came to take her hand and show her the house, although she smiled at Moira in much the same way, and at the other children too; she smiled at everyone as though she had known and loved them all her life. When she saw Morgan for the first time, as he hurried through from the drawing room to greet her, calling to Engel as he did so, she ran across and hugged his knees.
Each day, Morgan would watch them eat, while Engel doled out food into their bowls. David and the second eldest, a girl with sad blue eyes and a missing milk tooth at the front of her mouth, whose name—because Engel had insisted—was Daisy, sat near the fireplace at a small wooden table Morgan had never seen before, which must have been acquired by Engel in the town and been delivered when he was in another part of the house, or still asleep one morning. So much went on in the house of which he was unaware. The running of the place, he often thought, was blessedly arranged behind his back. The others were seated in a semicircle of high chairs, also new. Melissa and David and Jack and Moira and Daisy and Christopher and Ruth, each one as like and unlike the others as children always are. Morgan was proud to see his kitchen busy with these small, contentedly eating creatures, with Engel filling their bowls and spooning the food into the younger ones’ mouths.
One day, in an effort to belong more intimately, Morgan dipped his finger into a bowl and licked off the pap, a sort of puree, as far as he could tell, of meat and cabbage. He was surprised to find it so good. I should like some of this, he said to Engel, who growled at him and shook her head. This is no food for you, she said. You’re a big enough baby as it is. Later that day, standing in his bedroom, he couldn’t explain to himself how deeply the manner of this refusal had touched him. He found himself weeping for the first time since the accident. Later still that same day, when he had thought he was alone in his room, he opened his eyes and saw two children, a boy and a girl, standing before him, dressed identically in striped smocks that came almost to their feet and thin white shoes, as soft and defenseless as slippers. They spoke together. Our names are Georgie and Georgina, they said. Hello, Georgie and Georgina, Morgan said, with some difficulty, the soft gs clinging to the surface of his tongue. Hello, Morgan, they said. So they’d already been told his name.
Mealtime with the children became a fixed point in his day. He would steal small tastes of the food that Engel prepared whenever she turned her back, which she may have done on purpose; his finger was constantly wet to the touch, and warm. The children had learned that when Morgan was there they should be quiet and eat their food, although no child was ever punished, certainly not in front of him. At times he wondered if Engel chastised them when he was somewhere else. He didn’t think so. Did it occur to him that a child that never needed to be chastised was hardly a child at all, but a sort of living doll, or automaton? Of course it did. He knew there was a mystery about these children, and not only in the nature of their arrival, but he pushed the thought aside. In any case, the notion that Engel might do more than raise her voice, might use some sort of violence against them, could not be conceived.
The room in which Morgan passed the better part of his days was lined with darkly polished wooden shelves, and had no natural light. Each shelf was tightly packed with stacks of books of all shapes and sizes, reaching to the high paneled ceiling. The entrance was concealed behind a small hinged bookcase filled with dummy books, one of which—a collection of essays by an eighteenth-century cleric—acted as a hidden clasp. Even the two long windows that had once overlooked the lawns had been sealed to make more room for shelves, thought Morgan, absurd as this was in a house with dozens of empty rooms that might have held any number of books. What he didn’t say—perhaps because no one had ever asked him—was that in rooms without access to natural light, there could be no day or night. In this room, known as the book room to distinguish it from the house’s true library, which was downstairs, time was an uninflected, unending ribbon, an ouroboros. Morgan had arranged for a desk to be placed in the center and, behind it, the swivel chair his father had used when he worked as a lawyer in the city. This was the room in which he read and, sometimes, before the children arrived and for some time after, wrote. The children were only permitted to enter accompanied, although they were always there for him in a way. He would feel their presence whatever he was doing.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Children’s Home includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In a sprawling, secluded estate lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a mysterious fortune. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children arrive.
The children behave strangely. They have an uncanny understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion are disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into hidden rooms, if not into thin air.
As time goes by, Morgan suspects that the children are there with a purpose, which they refuse to share, though it involves the fates of more than just those in the mansion. Ultimately, Morgan must confront his past, his family, and the source of his fortune.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why does Engel call the first child, Moira, a living daylight? Why do you think the “living daylights” are the part of the soul most susceptible to fear? How does this set the tone for the book?
2. When David appears, he’s described as wearing a “cardboard tag” and stands like “a little soldier” (page 4). Where did this make you think David had come from?
3. How is the Doctor able to accept Morgan so easily? What does he mean when he says, “I might be no more than a family doctor, but I haven’t stopped wondering” (page 70)?
4. What fairytale characters does Morgan’s mother remind you of? In what ways?
5. The children seem to be on a quest almost as soon as they arrive. Some of the elements of a classic quest include the call, acquiring companions and help, obstacles, a journey, attaining the goal, and returning home. How do we see these elements play out in the children’s quest? In Morgan’s quest?
6. Morgan “wanted to see what the mask would look like that had no face beneath it; the mask that had become the face” (page 22). Why is Morgan so fascinated with masks? What does his ultimate rejection of the wax mask signify? Why does the wax mask represent the danger of superiority?
7. What does the burning dream at the end of chapter nineteen mean (page 120)? What are the “hundreds, thousands” that Morgan is one of?
8. When David asks about the factory, Morgan can only say that “it makes power” (page 86). Is Morgan responsible for the factory? Should he have known more about it?
9. Why do the children write “I AM ONLY A CHILD BUT ALREADY I HAVE UNDERSTOOD THE WICKEDNESS OF THE WORLD” (page 106)? Are the children better able to understand wickedness somehow? Why or why not?
10. Why does the Doctor become more childlike as David becomes more grown-up and authoritative? Why does Morgan see the “man David might have become” (page 210) in the Doctor?
11. While his mother lived, Morgan was “referred to as Master. Master Morgan, the child of the house” (page 44). Why was he a child? At the end of the book, how has Morgan changed?
12. From the children’s fascination with where they’ve come from and the pregnant figure in the attic (page 195) to the roots of the children in the field at the factory (page 177), why is it so important to know the origin of things in The Children’s Home?
13. When David tells Morgan “What’s happened to you is you” (page 201), what does he mean? And why does he ultimately heal some of Morgan’s injuries but not all?
14. How does the Doctor’s statement, “All these worlds we know nothing of…They’re all connected under the surface…What doesn’t happen in one place happens somewhere else,” reflect The Children’s Home as a whole?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and discuss the parallels among these plots. How do they each present the dualities of human nature, in adults and children?
2. Watch Pan’s Labyrinth, which blends elements of fantasy, history, and the realities of war into a single narrative. Discuss how the elements of fantasy in the movie contrast with and underline the realities it depicts. Does The Children’s Home use fantasy in a similar way?
3. Choose a classic fairy tale to share with the group. Discuss what you think its meanings are to both adults and children, and how and why those meanings vary.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this tale is gripping and disturbing. Where you can lose the grasp of reality through the eyes of the main character. The sequence of events that constitute the body of this novel, can be considered cruel, fantastic, courageous, weird, frightening and sad. Note: I received an ARC free for review.
Morgan has become horribly disfigured and lives by himself except for his housekeeper Engel. Morgan doesn't really do much but catalogs books in his library.He is alive but not “ living”. Then children start appearing at his house. The first being a baby named Moira. Then more come until there are seven children with the oldest being David who is a very old five. Morgan just seems to accept the kids in his life now even grows to love them and assumes charge of them. But he seems to keep himself on the edge just watching the kids laugh and play. the children seem to have some oddities but Morgan accepts that also. Then Moira becomes ill and Dr Crane is called. Morgan and Dr Crane become friends and Dr Crane ends up moving in also. organ eventually tells Dr Crane how he was scarred. Morgan also tells Dr Crane his sister runs the family business and he hasn’t seen her since he was nine. This story was just odd. You weren’t really told a lot . It’s pretty short for a novel also. It also kinda keeps you hanging in the end and I definitely do not like that. This wasn’t a really enjoyable story for me too many things left unsaid type thing. It just didn’t make sense in parts of the story. At the end I wondered what the ending was suppose to mean. Anyway I didn’t really care for this story hence the two. I received an ARC of this story for an honest review.
The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert is an unusual book. Morgan Fletcher lives alone in his big house until Engel shows up. Then one day a baby is left at the door. Slowly other children start to appear at the house. When one of the children become ill, Engel finds Dr. Crane to come and visit. At first Morgan hides from Dr. Crane. Morgan was severely injured by his mother. His face and one hand are badly disfigured. Then slowly Morgan gets to know Dr. Crane and they spend time together. Then people come looking for the children. When they search the house, the children (and all of their things) disappear. Until one day they find one child (maybe they are supposed to), Moira. Morgan and Dr. Crane along with the children go looking for the Moira. Why was the little girl taken and what is their fascination with children? The Children’s Home is just plain odd. I have tried to summarize it to the best of my ability. This book is really not that long, but it seem to go on forever. I really tried, but I was never able to get into this book. Odd things happen in the book, but nothing is ever explained (like what year is it, the country, last names). The writing style is convoluted and formal. I do not think I got the point of this book, but then I do not believe the writer knew what type of story he wanted to write. The world the writer created did not seem complete or whole. We are only given a little bit of information about it (like everything else). I give The Children’s Home 1 out of 5 stars (which means I really did not like it). It sounded like an interesting book, but I just found it odd and confusing (and very disgusting at the end). This book is not for someone with a light stomach. There are some nasty things that happen near the end of the book (with equally horrible descriptions). I received a complimentary copy of The Children’s Home from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Lambert is a brilliant writer, and his absorbing new novel, The Children’s Home, is the best literary fiction I have read in some time. Thank you to Scribner and Net Galley for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for an honest review. We start with Morgan, a bitter recluse rattling around in his immense family mansion, afraid to leave its walls for fear someone will see his face and ridicule him. His sister Rebecca runs the family business, and she hires Engel to serve as housekeeper and cook to him. Moira and David are two children that magically appear at his estate. Unlike normal children, they don’t leave messes lying around, whine, or need to be cleaned up; Morgan notices that whenever he wants to concentrate or not have the children around, they seem to vanish, appearing again when wanted. Motherhood should be so sweet. But back to the manse. Soon more children come, first in ones and twos, then in waves. Eventually Morgan can’t tell how many children are on his estate. Investigators show up eager to find that he’s breaking the law; they sniff around and leave without seeing anything. And to the burgeoning household a doctor is added. Morgan wants someone discreet and trustworthy to deal with his medical issues, and soon Dr. Crane is not only making house calls, but has a room of his own. And subtly, the power dynamics start to shift. A seismic change is in the wind. Morgan doesn’t dare leave the estate. At first, the reader believes it is because he is afraid his appearance will be ridiculed, but then others also mention fear for his safety should he leave the walls of his property. And eventually we see the flipside of all this bitter privilege, the big house with the on call servants and medical care. Because someone has to pay in the end; there’s not enough wealth to go around when the few get so much of it, and we learn what is taking place outside those walls. That said, this is not a simple nod to social justice, but a juicy tale full of surprises. I won’t take you any farther than that, but I must say that Lambert is a writer of undeniable talent. The Children’s Home is brilliant literary fiction. The allegory is a mite on the heavy handed side, but it doesn’t matter when the spell woven is as magical as it is here. I was expecting something along the lines of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but this is so much more than that. Parents may want to be aware that there’s a great deal of violence inherent here. For some adolescents, it will be all the more delicious for it, but it is written for an adult audience, and some parents may want to read it themselves before passing it on to younger folk.