The Dead of Night – The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions

The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions

Wordsworth – 2010

I originally planned to just read Widdershins, Oliver Onion’s most famous collection of ghost stories, but after finishing that collection (it’s available online), I decided to read the Wordsworth anthology of his collected ghost stories. This collection is almost 700 pages long, and it contains Widdershins (1911), Ghosts in Daylight (1924) and The Painted Face (1929), all three of the collections of ghost stories that Onions put out in his lifetime, along with a few other bits and pieces. I read Widdershins and wrote the following paragraphs almost a year ago, but I only read the remainder of Onion’s ghost stories over the last couple of months. I had mixed feelings.

I had seen collections of Oliver Onion’s ghost stories around for years, but it wasn’t until I came across his name being mentioned in T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies that I decided to read him. I read Widdershins, probably his most famous collection of ghost stories first.

The first story in here, The Beckoning Fair One, seems to be Onion’s most famous work. It’s a story about a man who falls in love with a ghost and goes mad. It’s very good.

The other stories are all of a decent standard, but there was a couple that I felt like I had read before. There’s one where two guys visit a house and later find that that house has long been abandoned. I’m pretty sure Count Stenbock wrote one along the same lines. Also, there’s one where the protagonists find out that they themselves are the ghosts.

The writing here was surprisingly good. I had Onions pegged as a pulpy writer, but these are finely crafted stories that rely on terror and suspense rather than bumps in the night. I wasn’t sure if I was going to read any more of Onion’s stuff after this collection, but I think I’ll probably give the rest of his stuff a go in the future

The Painted Face collection (originally published in 1929) is made up of only 3 stories. The titular tale, a lengthy novella is pretty good, quite literary. I liked The Master of the House, a tale about a weird werewolf man. The other story in here, The Rosewood Door was pretty standard Onions. Overall, I liked these tales as much as anything in Widdershins, and unlike Widdershins, there are no duds here.

Ghosts in Daylight contains all of the stories I really disliked. I sometimes take notes into an excel spreadsheet when I am reading a short story collection, and I’ll share what I jotted down while reading the stories from this one:

Story Comments
The Woman in the Wayboring story about a priest who meets a boy who met a ghost of a woman who was engaged to his brother in a field.
The Ascending Dream3 men from different ages dream a dream that causes them to leave their sweethearts. BORING
The Honey in the Walla girl owns a big house but has no money. She fancies a guy, so she dresses up a ghost. Nobody cares.
Dear Dryadvery boring story about a tree that 3 generations of people do stuff in front of a tree.
The Real Peoplea “comic” story about an author whose characters come to life. BORING.

If you’ve ever watched that movie From Dusk till Dawn, you probably remember that scene in the strip club with Selma Hayek dancing with the snake. I love pretty much everything about that scene, including the music. The song playing is ‘After Dark’ by Tito and Tarantula, who actually appear as the band playing in the film. Tarantism, the album that song is from is great, but I haven’t listened to it for years. A few weeks ago, I was reading through this Oliver Onions collection, and I started reading a story called “The Smile of Karen”. It’s about a jealous husband who gets upset when he sees his wife smiling. As I was reading it, I remembered that there’s a song on Tarantism called ‘Smiling Karen‘. I went back and listened to it, and sure enough, it’s about a man who finds his wife has been cheating on him, so he kills her. I emailed Tito to see if this was just a coincidence, but he hasn’t responded yet. The story was good though, one of my faves.

The other stories in here are of varying quality. I quite liked The Rope in the Rafters, a story about a disfigured soldier visiting a haunted castle, and Resurrection in Bronze was an interesting look at creative mania, but the rest were fairly shit.

Oliver Onions wrote some excellent ghost stories. He wrote some fairly dull ones too. I do appreciate the comprehensive nature of this collection, but, in truth, a greatest hits anthology would be far more entertaining. I was going to read Onion’s novel, The Hand of Cornelius Voyt, but I probably won’t now.

A.N.L. Munby’s The Alabaster Hand

The Alabaster Hand – A.N.L. Munby

Four Square – 1963 (Originally published 1949)

The protagonist in T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies mentions that this book is on his shelf. I promised myself I would read all of the horror fiction referenced in The Ceremonies, but after attempting to read the truly atrocious Ingoldsby Legends, I had to wait a while before going any further with Klein’s recommendations.

The Alabaster Hand is the only work of fiction by Alan Noel Latimer Munby that was ever published. It’s a collection of ghost stories that were written while the author was being detained in a prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany. The collection is dedicated to M.R. James, and James’s influence can be felt in every one of these tales.

Munby was a serious book nerd. He was an antiquarian book dealer, a librarian at Cambridge and the President of the Bibliographical Society. His characters, like those of James, share his interests, and his passion for old books creeps into several of the stories here. There’s mysterious diaries, terrifying grimoires and an antiquarian bookshop run by a pervert. The book nerd in me couldn’t help but enjoy these tales. I spend a good deal of my free time researching quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, but Munby took these pursuits to another level. I get the sense that Munby was romanticising the life of an antiquarian though. Michael Cox, in his 1995 introduction to this collection notes, “The stories in The Alabaster Hand are deliberately retrospective in their evocation of a world that, by 1949, had largely vanished.” It’s hard to imagine anyone other than a carefree Victorian Lord having the necessary time and money to pull off a life truly dedicated to the pursuit and study of antiquarian books.

There’s one story in here called ‘The Negro’s Head’ that is liable to cause offence to modern readers. It’s about a black lad who is murdered for being black. Although the narrator does not condone this murder, he does end the story with regrets for the “savage who was so grievously wronged at the hands of one of my own countrymen.” I know words were used differently back then, but describing a murder victim as a savage seems pretty silly by any standard. I’m quite sure Munby actually meant well here, but I’d still skip to the next story if I was reading this one on the bus.

My favourites in the collection were ‘Herodes Redivivus’, ‘The Book of Hours’, ‘Number Seventy Nine’ and ‘The Devil’s Autograph’. As fun as some of these stories were, none of them were remotely scary. I recall feeling a bit creeped out when I read some of James’ stories, but nothing in this book had that effect. They’re decently entertaining though, and if you like M.R. James, this may be the next best thing. It’s quite short too. You might as well read it.

The Ingoldsby Legends – A Review in the Spirit of the Work

The Ingoldbsy Legends – Richard Harris Barham
J.M. Dent & Co – 1898 (Originally published 1840)

Waded through some poems in The Ingoldsby Legends before dinnertime, & that was punishment enough.

T.E.D. Klein, The Ceremonies

Ted Klein wrote a novel called The Ceremonies
that mentions some other horror ficciones
(that’s Spanish for stories), and I, being me,
decided to seek out these tales with great glee,
for Klein’s a respected horror critic and author,
and taking his recommendations I oughta.
I’d already read Stoker and  Machen and Poe,
but some of the books in there I didn’t know,
so I set out to find them, though it might be a slog,
and vowed to review each of them on my blog.

Now Klein’s protagonist reads these dark tales
but encountering one, he verily fails
to finish, for it is too boring by far,
so he picks up instead a book about stars.
I promised myself I’d succeed where he failed,
so I opened the book and I slowly inhaled
to ready myself for some archaic prose
about witches and jackdaws and old spooky ghosts,
but soon my face puckered like I’d sucked on a lime,
for The Ingoldsby Legends is written in rhyme.

It popularized supernatural tales,
but to provide any frightening scenes it quite fails.
I pushed to get through it,  made several tries,
but this kind of writing, I truly despise;
it’s boring and British and repulsively twee.
It might feature spirits, but it isn’t for me.

Let this be a lesson, learn from my mistake,
and leave Ingoldsby’s Legends alone, for God’s sake.
Use your copy for toilet paper, don’t you think twice,
and please listen closely to these words of advice:
When writing ghost stories and tales (and reviews),
poetry isn’t the form you should use.

Ghost Story – Peter Straub

Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Pocket Books – 1980
(Originally published 1979)

I have heard a lot of good things about Peter Straub, and I knew that Ghost Story is considered to be one of his best books. It was the last book I read of the 10 discussed in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and it was also the last book of my summer vacation. (That might give you an idea of the backlog of posts I have.) I had high expectations for this book, and it did not disappoint.

This is a very long novel, but its influences are the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James. With the exception of Hawthorne, I have tracked down and read all of the supernatural fiction by these authors, so it’s not super surprising that I enjoyed this. (I read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Twice told Tales years ago but none of his later short fiction. I’ll have to see if there is a dedicated collection of his ghost stories out there.) While this book wears its influences on its sleeve, it has in turn become very influential on modern horror. One of the stories in Ryan Harding’s Genital Grinder uses this book’s opening line as homage.

There’s a part in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre where King discusses how the unknown is perhaps the most potent element of horror. The scary thing behind the closed door is always scarier when that door remains closed. Regardless of how terrifying the menace actually is, by making itself known it loses some its power. (Sure it’s scary, but it’s teeth and claws could always be a little bit longer.) In short, the question is scarier than the answer.

I reckon the first half of Ghost Story is one of the greatest set-ups in all horror fiction. The mystery, atmosphere and tension are magnificent. What the hell is happening here? Why has this man kidnapped a child? Who or what is picking off the small group of old men in Milburn? What’s the unspeakable event that occurred between these old men and the mysterious Eva Galli in the past? How are the answers to these questions linked?

The problem with this book is that those questions have to be answered. As King notes, the answers are doomed to fall short of the horror of the questions themselves. The ending of this book is fine. The characters remain interesting, and there’s plenty of creepy bits, but for my money, the malevolent supernatural force at the heart of the story is just a little bit too complicated for the second half of the book to live up to the first.

Maybe that sounds like a jerk thing to say. There’s literally no way to keep this kind of tension consistent until the end of a story, so this critique isn’t really fair. At least Straub tried. Most writers wouldn’t be able to come anything close to what he has achieved in this book. There are some seriously creepy moments in here. Even thinking of one particularly skillful use of foreshadowing near the beginning of the book makes me shudder, months after finishing the novel.

Jesus she moved she can’t she’s dead.

I really enjoyed Ghost Story, and I recommend it to any fan of horror. Straub has written a bunch of other novels too, including two with Stephen King. I am entirely certain I’ll be reading more of him in the future.

The Bride of Christ and Other Fictions – Montague Summers

The Bride of Christ and Other Fictions – Montague Summers
Snuggly Books 2020


I have a collection of books by and about Montague Summers. A few years ago, somebody found a bunch of his writing that was long believed lost. It contained an unpublished collection of ghost stories that was finally put out last year. This collection was really, really cool. The publisher, Snuggly Books, announced that they had enough material for a second collection of unreleased fiction. It was to be titled The Bride of Christ. I ordered a copy as soon as it came out.

In his introduction to the text, Daniel Corrick notes that the pieces in this collection can be divided into four categories: the ghost stories, the Uranian pieces, the society pieces and the titular novella. I’m going to stick with these categories in my discussion too.

The ghost stories are very short little things. They’re not awful or unpleasant to read, but they’re not particularly memorable.

The Uranian pieces are mostly uninteresting. One of them, “The Parting of the Ways”, is ok. It’s a story about a lad falling in love with a lad who falls in love with a woman. It’s not a great story, but it is actually a story which is more than can be said about the other two Uranian “pieces” in here. I was going to say that it’s a bit odd that a self proclaimed Catholic priest would write stories about romantic affairs between teenage boys, but I guess that’s not really true at all.

The “society pieces” are boring garbage. Both are opening chapters to books that Summers never bothered to finish. These are boring stories about rich old British women trying to impress their friends. I read one, but couldn’t bring myself to finish the other. Pure crap.

The Bride of Christ, the longest piece in this book, appears at the start of the collection, but I was excited to read it, so I saved it for last. I was disappointed. It’s the story of a nun who falls in love with Jesus. The priest at her convent tells her this is not good. Just as the story seems to start, it ends. There is supposedly some debate over whether or not this work is complete. If this is the final product, it’s absolute shit. There’s simply not enough in here for it to be interesting. I’m giving Monty the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s unfinished.

I understand why a publisher would choose to release two books of Summers’ fiction rather than trying to stick it all into one together, and as a collector of his work, I am pretty happy to own this collection of rarities. Honestly though, there isn’t going to be much of interest in this book to anyone other than Summers enthusiasts. I think taking the two ghost stories out of this one and adding them into Six Ghost Stories as an appendix would have made the best book. The leftovers aren’t really worth reading.

Shirley Jackson – The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle

A few months ago, I had decided to read some T.E.D. Klein, and I was trying to figure out where to start. I read on his wikipedia page that his story The Events at Poroth Farm “is notable for the insidious way in which the narrator’s responses to the works he is reading (including those of Charles Robert MaturinAnn Radcliffe“Monk” LewisSheridan Le FanuBram StokerAleister Crowley, and Shirley Jackson) are conflated with his impressions of the supernatural threat.” With the exception of Shirley Jackson, I had read and reviewed bits and pieces by all of these authors for this site. I used to teach high school English, so I had come across a few of Jackson’s short stories before, but I had never read any of her novels. I had heard that these novels were pretty great, so I decided to give Shirley a go.

Shirley lotteryThe Lottery: The Adventures of James Harris
Farrar, Straus and Company – 1949

But I started with The Lottery: The Adventures of James Harris (or The Lottery and Other Stories as it was later retitled). Many of these stories are short little glimpses into the lives of surprisingly normal characters, racist neighbours and jealous office workers, people it’s very easy to picture. This collection had very little supernatural horror in it, and it is very different to the stuff I usually post about, but I found it interesting and entertaining. It ends with the title story, The Lottery. This is probably the most horrifying tale in the collection, but it’s also one of the most famous short stories ever written. If you haven’t read it, go read it. I have a pdf of comprehension questions I can send you when you’re done.

 

haunting hill house shirley jacksonThe Haunting of Hill House
Viking – 1958

I knew that this book had a reputation as one of the greatest horror novels ever before I read it. I was not disappointed. This was great. It’s far longer than the stories I had read by Jackson previously, but the prose and plot are just as tight. The tightness isn’t stifling though. This is masterfully written stuff, but it’s still a page turner. There was one part that creeped me out really good. No spoilers, don’t worry. (You know that bit where she thinks she’s doing one thing but she’s actually doing something else? Yeah, that bit! SPOOKY!) Holy shit, this book was good. Prioritize it on your reading list.

 

we have always lived in the castle shirley jacksonWe Have Always Lived in the Castle
Viking – 1962

I waited 2 weeks after finshing Hill House to start on We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This one isn’t a horror novel in the same way as Hill House, but I reckon it’s probably the darker of these two books. It’s about a pair of sisters who live in a big house in a town where everyone hates them. This one was great too.

In general, Jackson’s narration is superb. She manages to transfer the thoughts from her characters’ heads onto the page without losing the nuances of their thought processes. The characters in her stories will say quirky little things that you will have found yourself thinking a million times but have probably never said out loud. This is partly what makes Merrikat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle such a fascinating character. The relatability of her thought process makes it really easy to forgive her malevolent sociopathy.

Shirley Jackson was an excellent writer, one of the best. I’ve read some awful crap recently, and I really enjoyed reading some top notch horror. Jackson’s novels have somewhat rejuvenated my interest in the genre. Also, now I won’t feel like a philistine when I start reading that story by T.E.D. Klein

Bernard Taylor’s Early Work – The Godsend, Sweetheart, Sweetheart, The Reaping, The Moorstone Sickness, and This Is Midnight

I’ve done a few author overview posts recently. Here’s one on Bernard Taylor’s early books:
the godsend bernard taylorThe Godsend
Avon Books – 1977 (First published 1976)

The Godsend is a well written book, and I had no desire to put it down once I started it, but I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it. It’s horrifying in parts. This is one of those creepy kids books that were so popular 40 years ago. 

I’m fine reading about torture and gore and all that stuff, but I find it very difficult to read about children suffering. I read The Voice of the Clown and Childgrave earlier this year, and after reading The Godsend, I’m ready to avoid this kind of book for a while. This one wasn’t quite as nasty as The Voice of the Clown, but it was just as humourless. It’s bleak and upsetting.

A couple end up with a baby they weren’t planning for and very bad things start happening. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because once the story gets going, there’s only one possible outcome. You’ll realise this as you’re reading it too, but the writing is so smooth that you’ll stick around for the descent.

Without ruining the plot, I can say that this is one of those books where the reader is left uncertain about what’s really happening with the events of the story. Is the narrator insane, or is there something genuinely supernatural going on? This is a trickier one to decide than most though. The plot events seem far too weird and severe to be coincidental, but there’s never any explanation offered. Also, the story is narrated by one of the characters living through these awful events, so it’s very likely that his trauma would be influencing his account. At one point the narrator seems to be on the verge of performing at act that no sane person could ever perform. If anyone else has read The Godsend and has thoughts on whether or not something spooky was going on, I’d love to hear from you.

 

sweetheart sweetheart bernard taylorSweetheart, Sweetheart
Valancourt Books – 2015 (First published 1977)

I think this might be my favourite book by Taylor. I remember a few months ago, I was thinking about the limitations of different forms of media. Books generally rely on atmosphere for their scares while movies can terrify their audiences with a well timed noise. I didn’t think that books could have the same effect. That was until I read about the protagonist of Sweetheart, Sweetheart sitting alone in a haunted house and suddenly hearing laughter. I’m aware that my description here doesn’t sound scary at all, but imagine how creepy that event could be in a well made horror film. Imagine how good the writing would have to be to make a text version of that scene equally as scary. Well, Bernard Taylor pulls it off. At its heart, this is a traditional ghost story, but let me assure you, this is an exceedingly well told traditional ghost story. This was a great book.

 

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 1980)
I reviewed this a few months ago for another post. I really liked it.

 

the moorstone sickness bernard taylorThe Moorstone Sickness
Grafton – 1990 (First published 1981)

I thought The Moorstone Sickness was pretty good. I read this a few weeks ago, and I can’t think of much else to say about it now. I read it in a single evening, and I thought it was quite similar to Get Out, the 2017 horror film. Taylor’s book features more occultism and less surgery/social commentary. I liked that movie Get Out right until the very end when it had a surprise happy ending. I don’t have the same complaint about The Moorstone Sickness. Taylor seems to be aware that horror should actually be horrifying.

 

this is midnight bernard taylorThis is Midnight: Stories
Valancourt Books – 2019 (First published 2017)

This is the only collection of Bernard Taylor’s short fiction. It’s pretty good. I can’t remember where it was, but I once saw Taylor being referred to as a British Stephen King. After reading some of his books, I can see some similarities between the two; they’re both very readable, but the tone of Taylor’s books always seems a bit more serious than King’s. There’s not much humour in Taylor’s novels. I can’t remember any of the stories in This Is Midnight being outright silly, but some of them are certainly more light-hearted than his novels. Ultimately, I reckon Taylor’s novels are better than his short stories, but these are still pretty enjoyable. I like the completeness of this collection too. This guy has been an author for 40+ years, and he’s only written 13 short stories. Although this collection was first published in 2017, I am including it in this post as many of the stories herein are from Taylor’s early days as a writer.

 

I enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bernard Taylor. On average, it took me a day and a half to finish each his novels, and that had nothing to do with their length. Once I started reading Taylor’s books, I never wanted to put them down. According to wikipedia, he has written 7 more novels that can be classified as Horror/Suspense. I’ve read 5 of his books in the last 4 months, so I’ll probably give him a break for a while, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up here again. I’ll probably avoid the 5 books he wrote under the pseudonym Jess Foley though.

jess foley
I’m not trying to make fun of Taylor here. Fair play to him for writing these. They just seem… kinda different to the stuff I’ve read by him. Anyone know if they’re good?

Hugh Walpole’s All Souls’ Night

all souls' night walpole
All Souls’ Night – Hugh Walpole

Valancourt Books – 2016 (Originally published 1933)

Hugh Walpole was a very popular author of fiction about 90 years ago, but he’s not very well remembered anymore. This book was published during the author’s lifetime, and unlike many of the short story collections by old dead guys that I write about, this is not a ‘best of’ or ‘collected supernatural works of’ collection. It’s just a bunch of stories that the author wrote at around the same time (assumedly between 1928, when his previous collection of stories was published, and 1933). All Souls’ Night was recently reissued by Valancourt books, so it is likely one of the author’s better works.

Valancourt market this as a collection of macabre tales, and while I suppose there are enough spooks in here to warrant doing so, quite a few of these stories have nothing of the macabre or supernatural in them. The non-creepy stories are well written, and I enjoyed a few of them, but in honesty, they left me with no desire to seek out more of Walpole’s work. 

The creepy stories are quite good. There is a different collection of Walpole’s collected supernatural stories that was published posthumously, and I think I probably would have enjoyed that collection a little more than this one. However, the fact that All Souls’ Night was selected for republication over Walpole’s other short story collections suggests that it contains the author’s best ghost stories. These were well-written, enjoyable tales, but if they are the author’s best works, I don’t feel any great need to seek out his lesser stuff.

I feel a bit mean writing this review. This is an interesting collection. Walpole was gay, and while his work doesn’t describe explicitly homosexual acts, it is quite gay at times. (I mean that with total respect. Read the book and I’m sure you’ll agree.) This collection was published in the 30s too, so it’s likely very interesting to historians of queer fiction. (That’s not to say that it won’t be interesting/enjoyable for others too.) I wasn’t blown away by All Souls’ Night, but reading it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. It just wasn’t really my thing.

One of the reasons I decided to check this out was the author’s name. I assumed that he was some relation of Horace Walpole, the author of The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel. Hugh’s wikipedia page confirmed that the two were related, but it didn’t give the precise details. After a bit of sleuthing, I figured out that Horace’s Great Grandfather was Hugh’s great great great great grandfather. I’m not sure if that makes Horace Hugh’s great great great uncle, second cousin thrice removed or something else.

Six Ghost Stories – Montague Summers

 

summers six ghost stories.jpgSix Ghost Stories – Montague Summers
Snuggly Books – 2019

A few months ago, I got an email from my pal Sandy Robertson telling me that Snuggly Books were going to release a collection of short fiction by Montague Summers. I have long been aware that Monty had written a collection of short stories, but I knew that only a couple of these stories had ever actually been published and that it was difficult to find affordable copies of the books wherein these tales were collected. I’m a big fan and collector of the occult-related non-fiction books written and translated by Monty, and I am also a big fan of short horror fiction, so you will believe that I was very excited to hear that Monty’s ghost stories were finally being published. I ordered this collection for my birthday and read it last week.

20191130_224224This is the note from Timothy d’Arch Smith’s bibliography of Summers where I first read of these fabled fables.

These six stories lived up to my expectations. They are mostly about people who some acquire some kind of peculiar haunted object that brings about visions and specters. The obvious comparison to make is to M.R. James, who apparently had the chance to read and commend these tales. Incidentally, Montague Summers, the man, has always reminded me of the characters in James’s tales.

The writing in here isn’t what you might expect if you have only read Summers’ books on witchcraft. There’s some very long sentences, but Monty seems self-aware when he’s being verbose, and this comes across as charming rather than tedious. My biggest criticism is probably that the tone of some of these stories remains too light-hearted for too long. Everything will be going fine and dandy for all of the characters, and then a ghost will jump out and scare a person to death right at the very end of the story.

My favourite tale in here was The Grimoire. This one has been previously published in different texts, and it’s not hard to see why it was chosen above the others. It’s the story of a bibliophile whose local dealer procures him an aged book of sinister black magic. When the collector translates a passage from this heinous tome, scary things start happening. (I can’t help but wonder if Sam Raimi read this tale before writing Evil Dead.) This one was particularly cool because it feels like Summers, an expert on books about black magic, could be the narrator.

While not all terribly original, these stories are competent, fun and generally pretty satisfying. I read one each night after my family had gone to bed, sipping a cup of peppermint tea and hearing the cold November breeze blowing through the willow trees our garden. It was great. I suggest you enjoy these tales in a similar manner.

These stories are entertaining in and of themselves, but there’s something very exciting about reading a collection of tales that were believed to be lost for more than half a century. Summers’ old manuscripts went missing shortly after he died in 1948, and they were only unearthed a few years ago. Snuggly Books put out this collection in October (I think this is the only book from 2019 that I’ll have reviewed in 2019.), and they are planning to put out a second volume of Summers’ fiction early next year. This collection will include a novella titled The Bride of Christ. Sign me up!

Henry James was a Dry Shite

turn screw aspern james henryThe Aspern Papers and Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Penguin – 1984

I first read Turn of the Screw five years ago. I remember it taking a far longer time to get through than I had expected. While it’s only a novella, the text is remarkably dense, and I frequently needed to reread paragraphs to understand what they meant. I have worked as a teacher/tutor for many years, and rereading Turn of the Screw felt like an exercise in professional development for me; it allowed me to feel the confusion that a student goes through when they are confronted with text that is above their reading level. By the time I got around to rereading the book, I had mostly forgotten what happens in the story, so it was just as difficult the second time around.

Many, if not most, reviews of Turn of the Screw remark on the frustrating complexity of James’ sentence structures, and I have read several reviews that claim that the complicated text adds to the story’s atmosphere of claustrophobia and confusion. It’s an interesting technique, but I didn’t enjoy it. The story here is grand, but the writing ruins it.

Also included in this book is The Aspern Papers, another novella by James. This one is about a man trying to get at some papers that are in an old lady’s closet. It has no supernatural element to it, but I enjoyed it more than Turn of the Screw.

ghost stories henry james
Ghost Stories of Henry James
Wordsworth – Supposedly published in 2001

Last time I was home, I went to one of my favourite book shops and bought a bunch of books from the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. I had picked 5 out, but if you bought them in groups of 3, they were cheaper. This collection by James was the only one that I didn’t already have and I had forgotten how unpleasant reading him was, so I threw it in.

These stories are generally fairly crappy. The Ghostly Rental was probably the only one I actually enjoyed. The Romance of Certain Old Clothes was readable, but much like the exceedingly boring Owen Wingrave, the ghost bit only happens on the very last page. The Private Life and the Jolly Corner are based on interesting ideas, but they’re not spooky stories. The Third Person is one of the most boring, shitty, pooey-bum-bum stories I have ever read. This collection also contains Turn of the Screw.

These aren’t ghost stories for people who like ghost stories. They are stories that feature ghosts for people who like imagining that they’re clever and smelling their own farts. I really, really hope that I never have to read anything by Henry James ever again.

M.R. James > Henry James x 1000.