Friday, 19 January 2018

The Best Ghost Stories

Various
Hamlyn

With a title as seemingly clear and straightforward as that one up there you'd imagine that this here 750 page house brick of a book would be chock full of ghostly mayhem but you'd be fairly wrong in your assumption.  There's a little note at the beginning to the effect that they've played fast and loose with the term 'ghost story' and they're not lying. 

Spectral types do figure but they are mostly conspicuous by their absence.  In their stead we have a veritable smorgasbord of the grim, gruesome and ghastly; black magicians (Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 'The House and the Brain' and M.R. James' 'Casting the Runes'), werewolves (Saki's 'Gabriel-Ernest'), other dimensions (Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows'), ancient evil (H.P. Lovecraft's 'Rats in the Wall'), death itself (Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Masque of the Red Death'), Pan (Arthur Machen's 'The Great God Pan' and E.M. Forster's 'The Story of a Panic'), vampires (J. Sheridan le Fanu's 'Carmilla') and even a spirit or two (Oliver Onion's 'Are You Too Late Or Was I Too Early').

Amongst these are a host of other tales with certain authors featuring multiple times - there are 3 Machen's and 4 Lovecraft's for instance.  There are a few stories that keen anthology readers like myself will know well like W.W. Jacobs' 'The Monkey's Paw' but in general this is an intriguing selection that isn't afraid to sit a longer tale such as the Machen or le Fanu I mentioned earlier alongside a more fleeting tale such as Guy de Maupassant's 'Was It A Dream'.

It's all the better for it too.  The size of the book kept me subsumed in it's various world's for the best part of a fortnight, I even read some of it whilst holidaying at Baskerville Hall which seemed appropriate.  It is a delightfully atmospheric and absorbing read and I applaud the decision for multiple tales as it allowed for a deeper immersion in both an particular writer and in the book itself.

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