A Puzzle without a Picture

The Children’s Home: A Novel, by Charles Lambert, (Scribner), 224 pages, release date 5 January, 2016

Charles Lambert’s The Children’s Home is a fever-dream of a novel. The recently disfigured Morgan Fletcher lives on a huge estate that he shares with his housekeeper, Engel. One day, a baby appears at the back door. After that, infants and children continue to arrive without explanation, and Engel and Morgan welcome and care for them.

The world outside the walls of Morgan’s estate is volatile, with shadowy government bureaus, a mysterious factory (run by Morgan’s estranged sister, Rebecca), frequent violence, and grinding poverty. One day, a pair of men from the welfare department appear, determined to take the children. Though it’s not stated directly, the implication is that they’ll be taken to the factory—as workers or, perhaps, as raw materials.

Add in a friendly doctor, an attic containing unnerving medical waxworks, and Morgan’s back story, and you have a tale that is both engaging and full of gaps. One of the pleasures of The Children’s Home is the uncertainties it contains, which force an active reading. Is it allegory? Science fiction? Alternative history? This novel is a puzzle without a picture to work from, which allows readers to see it in multiple ways. We’re at the start of the year, but I fully expect The Children’s House to appear on my “ten-best” list at the year’s end.

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