‘Collected Ghost Stories’ by M.R. James #bookreview #bookbloggers #ghoststories #booklove #2018

I am certainly a braver person after completing this season’s reading. I’ve just finished M.R. James’ Collected Ghost Stories, which were originally published between 1904 and 1925, and were amalgamated in this collection by Penguin Random House in 2018.
I was dreading reading these stories almost as much as I did ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. The reason for this, is that a few years ago, I watched a 2010 TV dramatisation of ‘O, Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad’, starring John Hurt. It was a modern re-telling of the original story and it scared the living bejesus out of me.

Now that I’ve read it, however, I think I’ll give the old movies a try as well. There are sixteen other stories in this collection, but I’m not going to review them individually, as it would just take too long. (I’m WAAAY behind on my Goodreads reading challenge this year). Suffice it to say, that there are several reasons why I think these are such great ghost stories, and they are typical to each one.

Firstly, they are presented as true accounts of events. James tells these stories as though they are based on written evidence or have been told as personal recollections of diabolical happenings.

Secondly, the subject of the stories is always an academic; an expert in a particular field, most commonly antiquary. As a result, we infer that this person would not usually succumb to superstition, although they would perhaps listen to it with an academic interest. We trust them as a reliable witness; they have not become anxious, ill or dead for any reason other than because something dreadful, or inexplicable has happened to them.

Thirdly, the stories mostly involve churches, relics found therein, and religious people. Therefore, the comfort, peace of mind and faith held in such places and objects, is ripped from under the feet. There are desecrations and horrors, and no safe haven to be found.

Having said this, they are also rather different from other paranormal stories, in that the settings are more modern than usual, and so are more relatable to the ordinary circumstances in which a reader could find themselves.

There is a touch of the Blair Witch occasionally as well. Sometimes, we are left fairly uncertain as to what has happened, and the story just ends, but I like this.

If I was to make a final point, as a note to self, it would be this:

Don’t investigate any object, or undertake any task, unless it is familiar to you. So, cleaning your house, washing clothes, making beds and going to work are generally SAFE activities.

Digging things up in the garden, noticing anything at all in churches, being too well educated, being overly interested in antiquary, habituating desolate beaches, taking interest in other people’s conversations, reading diaries, doing anything whatsoever in inclement weather, and staying in hotels with windows, are NOT SAFE. I repeat, NOT SAFE.

Beware these stories, but certainly read them. Read them in the dark, and love them, like I did!

So, braver I am. I even relished watching the brilliant Netflix series, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, and the first four series of American Horror Story.

But then, I watched ‘Elf’ for the first time this year (not the first time ever obvs), and now it’s going to be all about the Christmas reading list. Blog post to follow.

I’m also looking for suggestions for what to read over the festive period. I’m unlikely to be found reading a cosy and comfortable romance, but I’ll try anything! My favourite types of story are usually based on fables and legends. For example, last year, I loved ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey and ‘Followed by Frost’ by Charlie N Holmberg. I’d love to hear from you, if you can think of anything I might enjoy!

Happy reading and best wishes for the winter season,

Jill x

‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill

 

The Woman in Black

I’ve seen the stage version of The Woman in Black twice, both times at The Theatre on the Lake in Keswick. The first time was as a young woman, and I came out of the auditorium creeped out, but had enjoyed it immensely. The second time, older, and after I’d had children, I emerged gripped with terror and wondering what had possessed me to go again! I couldn’t face the film.

And now, like an idiot, I’ve gone and read the book.

But maybe, it’s the irresistible pull of the haunted house tale. Like any decent haunted house, however repulsive and forbidding, it malevolently draws its victims in, like moths to a flame. And as with crime, there is no such thing as a victimless horror story.

On the front cover of my copy, which is very beautiful (sinister, but lovely), it states, “The Classic English Ghost Story”, and it is. It’s short; it can easily be read in one sitting. Rather foolishly though, I started this at bedtime, on my own. My husband was still faffing around downstairs, and I realised after the first chapter, that I needed to put it down and finish it during the day. The closed book then seemed to throb ominously on my bedside table, but in fairness, I may have got myself slightly overwrought with anticipation.

So, I’ve finished it today. It’s really an excellent ghost story with a heart-freezing climax. I know this is a book which is studied in schools now and so I’m not going to try to be clever or go into an in-depth analysis, as:

a) It’s unlikely I’d be able to

b) It’s already been done a few hundred thousand times

But for those who haven’t already read it, the premise of the story is this:

In a fictional town in the north-east of England called Crythin Gifford, an old lady, Mrs. Alice Drablow, has died intestate. A firm of London solicitors has been appointed to sift through her personal effects at her home, the aptly named Eel Marsh House. The firm appoints a young solicitor, Arthur Kipps, who is our protagonist. Arthur is keen to further his situation at the firm in order that he may provide well for his life with Stella, his fiancée, and he embarks on the long train journey so that he may firstly attend Mrs. Drablow’s funeral and then get on with the task at hand.

Beyond this, it’s every reader for themselves. It’s so frightening!

Almost every moment of this story is either ominous or terrifying, although we do get the odd minute of reprieve, just to allow the crescendo of tension to build back up.

There is a nauseating sense of isolation, decay and abandonment. The past cannot be changed, nor escaped; time cannot heal.

If you’re looking for a chilling tale to start off the season’s reading, I can’t think of a finer place to start. I am writing this in the cold light of day though. I still have to sleep tonight. Having said that, I’ve somehow managed to book us on a candlelit late night tour of our local ‘haunted’ stately home and bought tickets for a show called ‘Shivers’, all within the next few weeks.

I’m sure my brain must be a bit loose…..

 

 

 

Paperback, 200 pages
Published 2016 by Vintage (first published October 10th 1983)
Original Title
The Woman in Black
Edition Language
English
Series
The Woman in Black #1

The thinning of the veil…

wolf howling at moon

Well, here we are. It’s that time of year again. The nights are closing in; the veil between the worlds of the living and dead are thinning as I speak. Allegedly.

Without fail, I always try to scare myself witless for the next six weeks or so, year-in, year-out, therefore I have further burdened my already double stacked shelves in preparation.

I’m telling myself I’m mad, because first on the list this year is ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. I have some experience of this story; twice I have seen it performed at The Theatre on the Lake in Keswick in the Northern Lake District, which is one of my favourite venues. The first time, I came out a bit shaken. The second time, a few years later once I’d had children, I exited the theatre a little bit psychologically damaged. To the point, that when the film with Daniel Radcliffe broke loose several years later, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it!

The books are never as bad though, right?

Also in the wings, I have MR James’ ‘Ghost Stories’, Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds and other stories’, A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness, ‘The Witches of New York’ by Ami McKay and I plan to revisit a story that I enjoyed at the time, but didn’t review and that is ‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley. I have thought about it so often, and certain parts have really played on my mind in the period since, that I think I owe it a review.

Updates as I get through them. Think of me; I’m a wuss and I have no earthly idea why I do this to myself!