Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Ghost Stories

Cathay Books

Twenty-two exciting stories from the twilight world of haunted houses and hair-raising spectres are contained in this spine-chilling anthology.
Each tale is illustrated with specially commissioned drawings.

The more of these anthologies I read the quicker I get through them.  They're generally a fairly fast read anyway being short stories but in many cases the same stories appear again and again and again.  In the case of this 1984 collection from Cathay Books I already knew 12 of the 22.  Some, like M.R. James' 'A School Story' and Captain Frederick Marryat's 'The Phantom Ship' I skip past on a fairly regular basis but as these things are meant to entice (as opposed to being a warning to) the curious into the charms of the genre that's something that one has to accept.  With that being the case the above are fine inclusions as are other regulars such as Hugh Walpole's poignant 'A Little Ghost', Lovecraft's non mythos short 'The Music of Erich Zann', the unsettling presence of the cupboard in Algernon Blackwood's 'The Occupant of the Room' or Fritz Leiber's sooty city spirit in 'The Smoke Ghost'.

R. Chetwynd Hayes
Elsewhere in the book the unidentified editor has made some fine, if maybe a tad unadventurous, choices.  Charles Dickens is represented by his macabre tale of avarice and murder, 'The Ghost in the Bride's Chamber' wherein a murderer is forced to feel the intensity of his punishment increasing with each passing hour of the night which is far more than the guilty party at the heart (if you'll excuse the pun) of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' would have ever managed to endure.

The conclusion of Poe's tale signals the start of a run of rather inconsequential stories,  the black magic cat of R. Chetwynd-Hayes' 'The Cat Room', Catherine Crowe's somnambulist clergyman in 'The Monk's Story' and Saki's weakly witty 'Laura' before we hit a rich vein of the standards that I mentioned earlier.

Rosemary Timperley
The book makes another move towards the lesser known with Rosemary Timperley's tale of infatuation and fire, 'The Mistress in Black' and Guy de Maupassant's creepy little oddity, 'An Apparition'.

Undoubtedly the oddest inclusion here is an utterly pointless extract from Penelope Lively's 'The Ghost of Thomas Kempe' but it's easily skipped for the aforementioned Blackwood story and Jerome K. Jerome's practical joking ghost of 'The Haunted Mill'.

Guy de Maupassant
One of the biggest draws here was the opportunity to read something by another of the Le Fanu's.  The venerable Sheridan is here with 'The White Cat of Drumgunniol' but also his daughter Elizabeth who tells of a case of ghostly possession in 'The Harpsichord' which is a fairly told but lacks the invention of her father's work.

Closing the book are two authors who are anthology stalwarts, W.W. Jacobs, who is represented by a story I hadn't read before,'The Three Sisters' which reminded me entirely of 'The Tell-Tale Heart' and finally Joan Aiken's 'Sonata for Harp and Bicycle' allows the book to end on a romantic high even if it's a long way from being one of her best.

Some interesting stories make this a good but not essential anthology unless of course you're a newcomer to the delights of the genre then it's probably one to keep an eye out for.

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