It's that time of year again, when I scan the groaning shelves and select my Halloween reading. So what did I end up doing? Downloading an e-book instIt's that time of year again, when I scan the groaning shelves and select my Halloween reading. So what did I end up doing? Downloading an e-book instead!...more
An affecting novelette by one of the Victorian world's most remarkable women, who was better known for her travel writing (specifically One Thousand MAn affecting novelette by one of the Victorian world's most remarkable women, who was better known for her travel writing (specifically One Thousand Miles up the Nile). An accomplished travel writer, Amelia Edwards excelled at depicting foreign locales in her fiction. This story, set in Germany, is less a ghost story than a story of attachment and devotion. I'd give too much away to expand on how Edwards develops that theme, but the plot revolves around an impressionable young German girl and a noble prisoner who is also something of a Napoleonic war hero. In late age, the girl (now woman) looks back and recalls a singular period of her life. There's a pleasing if somewhat sentimental twist at the end. ...more
Although I'm a big fan of Victorian "weird" lit and ghost stories, I hadn't read anything (that I recall) by Charlotte Riddell, one of the most populaAlthough I'm a big fan of Victorian "weird" lit and ghost stories, I hadn't read anything (that I recall) by Charlotte Riddell, one of the most popular novelists of her day. The narrator in this tale is a clerk in a law office, and the book is a bit unusual in that he remains firmly in the background until the last third of the story. According to Richard Dalby, who has edited a number of excellent collections of Victorian stories, Charlotte Riddell was known as the 'chronicler of business' and "must surely be the first (of very few) to have an accountant as a hero." In this novel she is true to form in that business dealings are central to the haunting. Oh, and there's a romance and inheritance as well, all in the best Victorian tradition. ...more
I downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & NoblI downloaded the title story as well as two others in this Dover edition from Project Gutenberg -- the first things I read on my new Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader. Thought I'd try some short stories while getting the hang of using my new device.
It had been years since I had seen the Michael Caine/Sean Connery movie, but I still found that I remembered quite a bit of it. Part of the challenge in reading "The Man Who Would Be King" was to not let my memories of the movie overshadow the tale although I found that letting Michael Caine's voice stand in for Peachey enhanced the reading).
As I read the title story, I reflected on how much a British audience of Kipling's era was familiar with that a modern audience isn't. Luckily, I have a fair amount of background in the history of the British raj, the geography of the region, and the political climate of the time, particularly as pertains to "the Great Game." Still, I suspect I missed some of the humor, particularly in the long build-up to the main events, when the narrator is experiencing a "Deficit of the Budget" and traveling "Intermediate Class" by train. These terms demonstrate part of the charm of the tale -- the use of high-flown language by the down-and-out classes, who may not have the ready money but certainly have ready wits. These are true Kipling "types" and always a treat to encounter.
There's a paternalistic attitude underpinning the tale, however, that I tried not to be judgmental about. The two adventurers, secure in their British know-how, set out to sort out the warring native tribes of fictional Kafiristan. All that's needed, it seems, are some twenty good rifles and the sort of knowledge a seasoned British campaigner would have -- how to drill an army, administer frontier justice, and deal with the natives. Kipling doesn't let this "white man's burden" aspect of the tale overwhelm the brisk narrative, to his credit, and indeed it's the violation of the terms of the adventurers' "Contrack" that proves to be their downfall.
Among the other four tales in this anthology, I liked "The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes" the best, a macabre tale recounted with considerable relish. "The Phantom Rickshaw" was a lamentably predictable ghost story, while "Wee Willie Winkle," to my mind, suffered from the Victorian tendency to be overly sentimental about children. The final story, "Without Benefit of Clergy" at first glance seemed overly sentimental, concerning as it did the ill-fated affair of a British man with a local Indian woman, but its ultimate effect was one of pathos. It reminded me of a book I read last year by William Dahlrymple, White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, which also concerned a doomed relationship. ...more
I picked this up at the library while browsing new materials, attracted by the idea of a ghost tale set in Cambridge, England, where I once lived. TheI picked this up at the library while browsing new materials, attracted by the idea of a ghost tale set in Cambridge, England, where I once lived. The New Yorker review sounded promising, too:
"A Cambridge historian dies under suspicious circumstances, leaving behind the nearly completed manuscript of a book on the alchemical experiments of Isaac Newton. Her son, a research scientist, hires his former lover, Lydia, to finish the book. Meanwhile, a shadowy group of animal-rights activists escalate their violent attacks. As Lydia is drawn further into Newton's seventeenth-century world, she begins to believe that his ghost is haunting her and, perhaps, directing the murderous events of the present. Stott, a historian of science, deploys her research effortlessly and demonstrates great attention to detail, but the proliferation of themes means that none are explored in much depth."
I started listening to this on a two-hour drive on a dark, rainy night -- probably near-perfect conditions to hear it. The writing initially reminded me a bit of a cross between Daphne duMaurier and Penelope Fitzgerald, and the descriptions of areas in and near Cambridge brought back nostalgic memories. Alas, after that first near-hypnotic session, I found some of the plot devices wore thin. More to the point, I grew very weary of the particular reader chosen. It's hard to find a good female reader; in part because darn near every one seems to have a sibilant /S/ (or so it seems -- perhaps I'm just hypersensitive). At any rate, I found myself fast-forwarding through some sections done in a particularly grating "voice" that represented the elderly murder victim's journal.
The plot is rather convoluted, but suffice it to say that it spans both Newton's time and our own, with interwoven conspiracies past and present. Two murders -- one in the distant past and another in modern day Cambridge - bracket a tale of conflicting loyalties and thwarted passions.
The novel's strengths are its wonderful sense of atmosphere -- Stott writes lyrically and knowledgeably (she is a science historian). At times I wondered how much license she'd taken with Newton's life, but the post-script makes it clear that the essential points are factual, which made their incorporation into a rather fanciful tale something of a tour-de-force.
The weaknesses are (to my taste) a certain over-romanticizing -- I grew impatient with the protagonist's Lydia's repeated reflections on her love affair with the central male character. But, then, I confess to being very irritated by romance writing in general, and this probably wouldn't be the thing most readers singled out as a flaw. More striking, perhaps, are certain "leaps of faith" required at the climax, which in contrast with the rest of the book seems to go lickety-split over some important events. The climax seemed rushed and confusing to me.
Although Benson wrote dozens upon dozens of ghost stories, beyond doubt the best of them have been selected for this collection. A master of the genreAlthough Benson wrote dozens upon dozens of ghost stories, beyond doubt the best of them have been selected for this collection. A master of the genre, Benson created eerily sinister atmospheres, highlighted by climaxes of terror and the occasional note of whimsy. He never fails to build a delicious and mounting sense of dread. These are "veddy English" ghost stories, though not as ornate as those of Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James and other well known practitioners of the English ghost story.
It has always impressed me that Benson, best known today for his stylish and witty comic novels, particularly the Mapp and Lucia books, was so accomplished in so many other genres of fiction and nonfiction. He wrote historical fiction, biographies, romances, novels of "moral dilemmas/redemption" (a staple in Edwardian times), "weird" or exotic tales, memoirs, and more.
Aside from the Mapp and Lucia saga, which is surely one of the most brilliant comic inventions in the 20th century, I enjoy his ghost stories the most. All my favorites are in this collection, including "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" and the incredibly moving and gentle ghost story "Pirates," which never fails to raise a tear. ...more
Master of the genre. Probably the best-known "classic English" ghost stories written. Includes such gems as "The Mezzotint." While I greatly admire JaMaster of the genre. Probably the best-known "classic English" ghost stories written. Includes such gems as "The Mezzotint." While I greatly admire James, none of these particular tales make my list of all-time favorite ghost stories. ...more
In the manner of the Sherlock Holmes stories, these tales concern a clever detective and are told by his sidekick. The difference, however, is that alIn the manner of the Sherlock Holmes stories, these tales concern a clever detective and are told by his sidekick. The difference, however, is that all the tales have a supernatural element. Rather than ultimately unmasking some supernatural hoax (such as the Hound of the Baskervilles), at times Carnacki wrestles with malign spirits. At other times, he does indeed unmask a hoax. In his pursuit of the truth, he employs a variety of ingenious devices of his own invention.
Carnacki himself is not a terribly well drawn character (unlike Sherlock Holmes). The tales are always told over dinner, with Carnacki holding forth to a circle of friends. (It's all veddy Edwardian). The chief appeal of the stories is the aura of mystery and the often sensational or bizarre turn of events. In one tale, Carnacki spends the night inside a pentacle beset on all sides by some unearthly horror; in another blood seems to drip from the ceiling (until Carnacki exposes it as a ruse).
One of the aspects I found most appealing was the depiction of Carnacki's various devices. These stories were written around 1910, and they are imbued with that belief that science knew no bounds, and that the future would bring amazing things. Scientists were akin to wizards; the general public looked upon them as almost a race of supermen. Carnacki is in this mold, and although he doesn't really come across as a three-dimensional character, he's an interesting "type," just as Professor Challenger (Arthur Conan Doyle) was an interesting "type" and John Silence (Algernon Blackwood) was an interesting "type." ...more
Memorable, heartbreaking ghost story. I'd say "tearjerker," but that sounds demeaning. Still, it's a three hankie one by the end. Evocative and absorbMemorable, heartbreaking ghost story. I'd say "tearjerker," but that sounds demeaning. Still, it's a three hankie one by the end. Evocative and absorbing. Beautifully written. ...more
Robert Aickman's term for his stories is "strange," and indeed they are, but I tend to think of them as "disquieting." His fiction takes me places thaRobert Aickman's term for his stories is "strange," and indeed they are, but I tend to think of them as "disquieting." His fiction takes me places that are not merely macabre or frightening; I find myself as adrift as his characters, not quite sure what is real. Much is left to my own imagination, and the most disquieting part is how I choose to fill in the gaps.
I am a great fan of weird and unsettling fiction. Things that don't fall into neat categories please me. And Aickman's ability to render atmosphere -- what I'd consider the essence of weird fiction -- is incomparable.
A favorite story in this collection is ""Niemandswasser." Though I'm writing this review some years after having read it, I can still recall the story vividly, and as I do so, the sense of dreamlike disquiet returns. Anyone who has rowed a small boat over an expanse of cold, dark, deep water will feel the pull of this somewhat fanciful tale, set in Austria before the first world war. The title translates as "No Man's Water," and it has touches of the seafarer's tale to it, but it also reminded me a bit of Dinesen's Seven Gothic Tales, at least in terms of time and aristocratic setting.
Reading Aickman requires a good deal of patience, or should I say a somewhat passive approach. When I read Aickman in a "normal" manner, marching along sentence by sentence, trying to connect things rationally, I grow impatient. When I allow the sentences to weave themselves around me, like tendrils, I find myself entrapped in Aickman's universe. Perhaps there is something essentially masochistic in this process. It doesn't feel particularly healthy, but like any addict, I come back for more.
There are sexual undertones, but there's far more at work than a dark yearning or frisson of the taboo. There is no trace of the sneering goth or woozily sexy vampire story about Aickman. As previously mentioned, there are touches of Dinesen-like grotesqueness, but most of Aickman's effect is achieved very quietly. His stories seem to work mostly on a subconscious level, and understanding why they work is quite beyond me. Or perhaps I simply don't want to examine the why too closely. It's like seeing something in the periphery of my vision, but dreading to turn my head and look at whatever it is directly.
Who says they can't make them like they used to? This is a terrific tale, among the best in the genre. I'd compare it to some of Edith Wharton's ghostWho says they can't make them like they used to? This is a terrific tale, among the best in the genre. I'd compare it to some of Edith Wharton's ghost stories, with a dollop of Daphne du Maurier on the side.
Unfortunately, I can't say a lot about the story without giving it away, but I will say it's an engrossing read. At about 150 pages, it's the perfect book for a cold winter's night. Build a fire, turn down the lights, curl up on the couch, and prepare to enter a dark world. ...more
I've read this at least three times and never grow tired of it. Jackson was the queen of the psychological horror tale. Eleanor's fragile mental stateI've read this at least three times and never grow tired of it. Jackson was the queen of the psychological horror tale. Eleanor's fragile mental state is exquisitely rendered, and Hill House itself is an absolutely terrifying entity.
The film version was an excellent adaptation of the book, I thought. I'm not sure how much my reading of the book was affected by having seen the film first, but all I can say is that my reading of the book hasn't ever suffered from it. ...more
Some might feel that Wharton was out of her element here, but I found these perfectly jewel-like tales. They are, as is to be expected, stylisticallySome might feel that Wharton was out of her element here, but I found these perfectly jewel-like tales. They are, as is to be expected, stylistically elegant -- Wharton doesn't lower her standards just because she's writing in a sometimes-maligned genre. These are classic "literary" ghost tales, best appreciated for the subtle shadings of tone and rich evocation of atmosphere. There are (this being Wharton, after all) heavy infusions of social class and the weight this imposes on the central characters. In order to fully appreciate these stories, readers need to let them unfold gradually and not feel impatient with what may at times seem peripheral elements. It all comes together; the patient reader is rewarded.
Personal favorites in this collection include "Afterward" and "The Lady's Maid." ...more
Le Fanu was an enormously influential writer in his time. It's said that his vampire tale Carmilla inspired Bram Stoker. Later on, two of the 20th cenLe Fanu was an enormously influential writer in his time. It's said that his vampire tale Carmilla inspired Bram Stoker. Later on, two of the 20th century's most heralded ghost story writers, M.R. James and Henry James, were also influenced by Le Fanu's tales.
While Le Fanu was one of the most popular writers of the Victorian era, he's not so widely read today, and most people encounter his work in ghost story anthologies, especially his most famous story, "Green Tea," a masterpiece of the genre. As this anthology demonstrates, Le Fanu's style gradually moved away from the mannered, overwrought Gothic conventions popular in his time toward a more vivid and taut style in his later work.
Le Fanu was a noted recluse who gradually withdrew from society after the death of his wife, and it's said that his work mirrored his tormented inner life. He wrote by candlelight far into the night in his gloomy Georgian house, perhaps attempting to exorcise the nightmares that kept him from sleep. Indeed, many of Le Fanu's tales have a strangely off-kilter psychological quality to them that seems to spring from a deeply morbid nature. In his work there's a shift away from the typical external Gothic terrors to internal sources of dread. He's sometimes compared to Poe, another groundbreaking writer who was a master of mood and psychological suspense.
One anecdote that is often told about Le Fanu is that throughout his life he was beset by a nightmare of being trapped a crumbling mansion on the verge of collapsing about him. When Le Fanu was found dead one February morning, his doctor remarked, "It is as I feared. The house has fallen at last."
(Note: First read in June 1999. Reread April 2012.) ...more
Not all of Benson's ghost stories hit the mark, but the ones that do -- well, they'll literally haunt you. My favorite stories in this anthology, thouNot all of Benson's ghost stories hit the mark, but the ones that do -- well, they'll literally haunt you. My favorite stories in this anthology, though, are wistful and gentle tales, such as "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" and "Pirates." I read my favorites from from time to time, and they only seem to improve with each reading. Benson is best known for his comic masterpieces such as the Lucia series, but he's equally adept at the classic ghost tale. His ability to evoke atmosphere is uncanny; I'd rate him right up there with Algernon Blackwood, MR James, and other masters of the genre....more