Friday, 11 March 2016

The Ghost's Companion

Peter Haining
Puffin Books

One of the most prolific of the anthologists of the 1970s this is one of many books wirth Peter Haining's name on that reside on my bookshelves.  This one is a fairly typical selection but one based around the conceit that each story is inspired by or reflects the authors personal experience of the supernatural.

The book features 15 authors most of whom are fairly common in these books such as M.R. James, H.Russell Wakefield and Algernon Blackwood but here they are joine dby others such as Arthur Machen, fantasy legend Fritz Leiber and sci-fi master Ray Bradbury.

It's James who opens the book with his tale of a haunted schoolmaster in 'A School Story'.  it's a regular in collections and it's easy to see why as it's exceedingly fast to read with an enigmatic conclusion although for me it's weakened by the silly and unnecessary coda.

H. Russell Wakefield
Wakefield's 'The Red Lodge' is a bit of a treat as he tells a haunted house story where each member of the house is being terrified by whatver is there but we only see the father's experience first hand with his wife and son's experienced only via his observations.  It's a solid, creepy tale with a sudden and tumutuous ending.

'The Furnished Room' by American author O Henry is one I came across quite reently in another anthology.  It's a short story teling of a young man's search for his lady love culnminating in a lonely lodging room.

Next is another of those regulars with Algernon Blackwood's, 'A Haunted Island' where a young student left alone on a remote North American island where he has a terrifying experience with some ghostly natives.

Rudyard Kipling's contribution to the anthology is 'My Own True Ghost Story' from his time in India.  It's tempting to believe the word 'true' as this wonderfully written but ultimately mundane story does have the ring of truth to it.

Rudyard Kipling
This is my first experience of the next author, the fantastically named Lafcadio Hearn, whose 'The Boy Who Drew Cats' is more of a Japanese folktale than a period ghost story.  It's quite convincing in it's disguise and with that in mind is successful, as a ghost story though it's less so.

I've not read a great sdeal by Welsh author Arthur Machen but what I have read I've loved .  For many he's most famous as the author of the 'Angel's of Mons' story that was so embraced by the public during the first world war.  This is another aset during that conflict as a German sergeants past comes back to haunt him.

Moving forward to the next war we have Daphne Du Maurier's 'Escort' that finds a British tramp steamer saved from certain doom at the hands, or rather the torpedos of a German U-Boat by the timely arrival of a ghostly frigate  and this nautical theme is continued by Hammond Innes' 'South Sea Bubble' which pits a retiree against the ghosts of his newly aquired ketch.

Richard Hughes
Richard Hughes is another writer that I've enjoyed in the past and here his story, 'The Ghost' is a keen but brief treat unlike Dennis Wheatley who was one of those authors whose presence was inescapable in the 1970s and 80s and I've tried to read some of his books as a kid having seen the Hammer versions but couldn't get into them.  As an adult I still find him a little dry and his contribution 'The Case of the Red-Headed Women' is a not entirely successful haunted house talem with a particularly poor ending.

Fantasy writer Fritz Leiber provides a story that is about as far away from a sword swinging escapade as you can get and relocates the ghost story away from it's comfort zone in the manor house and the countryside and into the grit and grime of the city in a very entertaining short tale.

Joan Aiken
One of my favourite authors provides the penultimate story. Joan Aiken's 'Aunt Jezebel's House', written when the author was just 17 is a delightful little tale of that feels more like the opening chapter of a longer story than a complete tale in itself before the book ends with a Ray Bradbury short that owes little to the ghost story genre and is far more a result of Bradbury's sci-fi roots and reads more as an alien invasion story than anything else.  It is, as you'd imagine, very well written and buiklds beautifully to a satisfying climax that is diminished somewhat by my puzzlement over it's inclusion in this particular collection.

In all a very satisfying collection assembled by a very able anthologist.  I like a mix of known and unkown (to me) authors in my anthologies and this is a little heavy on the former but with only four stories that I had already read it was a great opportunity to experience work that I was unfamiliar with by a number of top notch authors and that can never be a bad thing.

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