Saturday, 9 September 2017

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories

Penguin Books

Who better to investigate the literary spirit world than that supreme connoisseur of the unexpected, Roald Dahl? Of the many permutations of the macabre, Dahl was always especially fascinated by the classic ghost story. For this superbly disquieting collection, he selected fourteen of his favorite tales by such authors as E.F. Benson, Rosemary Timperley, and Edith Wharton.

In his introduction to this collection Dahl makes a big thing about how he read 749 ghost stories and had only found 32 that he deemed to be any good; of those he includes 14 here. One of them, 'Playmates' by A.M. Burrage, is my favourite of all the ghostly tales I've read over the years and a few of them - Robert Aickman's 'Ringing the Changes', Edith Wharton's 'Afterward' and Marion Crawford's 'The Upper Berth' - are staples of these sort of books. Of the rest they can best be described as a tepid selection.

A.M. Burrage
Of these remaining stories a couple such as L.P. Hartley's 'W.S.', Rosemary Timperley's 'Harry' and Cynthia Asquith's 'The Corner Shop' have a flavour of those 'unexpected tales' that Dahl himself was famous for. A few such, such as the ever readable J. Sheridan le Fanu's 'The Ghost of a Hand' are a little cliché or lovely but a little bit twee like Timperley's other tale 'Christmas Meeting'. Some are just bad - 'Elias and the Draug' by Jonas Lie and 'The Telephone' by Mary Treadgold - and a couple proved to be a delightful surprise - E.F. Benson's 'In The Tube' and A.M. Burrage's 'The Sweeper'.

It must be said I was expecting more from this collection. I thought a writer like Dahl would be able to assemble a collection to beat all others but this one rarely seemed to sparkle and was often a bit of a chore. It did serve to remind me though that what I really need to do is more fully explore the writing of A.M. Burrage.

Buy it here:  Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories

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