Laurie's Reviews > Collected Ghost Stories

Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James
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's review
Apr 10, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

Born in 1862, M. R. James was a Victorian with a love of ghost stories. Many of the tales in this collection were meant to be read aloud a Christmas or New Year gatherings; it shows in their conversational tone. There are 33 stories in over 400 pages- with 48 pages of notes. I’ve never before seen endnotes in fiction, but I found them helpful. The author makes many references to places and events in England that an American would likely not understand, and the many colloquialisms of the time sometimes baffled me until I looked in the back of the book. I read right through this book, which turned out to not be the right way of approaching it. Read one after the other, they tended to run together and lose their effect. These stories would be best read one or two in an evening, perhaps read out loud- preferably by firelight. But it was a library book, so I persevered.

‘Ghost stories’ is not really the right name for a lot of these stories. Many of them feature not ghosts but demons, things that go bump in the night, haunted or bespelled pictures, rooms, binoculars, hills and other inanimate objects. James seemed to have a peculiar horror of animate fabric, as it features in several tales, in the form of evil curtains, pillowcases, blankets, etc., which sounds silly but when it comes down to it, would you want to confront drapes that form into a human shape and try to smother you? For the main part (although there are a couple of exceptions) the horror in these stories in not of the modern variety where the gore is splattered across the pages. James creates a sense of disturbing unease, a feeling that puts the hair on the back of your neck up, the sense that something is really NOT all right, and that if one is smart, one will get the heck out of that house/cemetery/library before the thing you don’t really see becomes visible. Highly enjoyable, but take your time reading it.
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