British author Charles Lambert’s latest, The Children’s Home, is like a strange dream in which you can’t quite tell if you’re awake. Morgan, its disfigured, 20-something protagonist, lives isolated in his powerful family’s sprawling home. His estranged sister sent a housekeeper to live with him, and soon after, children began arriving. They appear with no backstory—one, in fact, materializes out of thin air—and Morgan and the housekeeper, Engel, become parents of sorts. The resulting story is a weird, poignant journey reminiscent of Calvino that explores fear, power, revenge and redemption.
When one of the children falls ill, Dr. Crane enters the scene. He befriends the young hermit and becomes a fixture at the house. When government agents arrive inquiring about rumors of “strays” living there, Crane speaks for Morgan, who is afraid to let strangers see his face. As Morgan and Crane observe strange, sometimes frightening, behaviors in the children, eerily related discoveries are made in attic trunks and in Morgan’s grandfather’s books. Eventually, circumstances force Morgan to balance his fear of being seen against his concern for the children’s safety.
Lambert’s story is addictive, although readers looking for concrete answers to its riddles may be disappointed. But while the book leaves many mysteries intact, its potent, often brutal, images have a lasting power. Things feel just a notch off in this world, like a walk through a quietly disturbing dream. It stays with you after, like that dream, trying to tell you something gravely important.