With the leaves falling in earnest now and Halloween just around the corner, I thought it was the right moment for a post about books that give us a scare! Ghost stories and horrors are my guilty pleasure, are they yours? What does it say about us I wonder, that we enjoy being scared? Do we enjoy the adrenaline rush when we know it is not really real? Are our lives so comfortable that we have to get our kicks vicariously? Are we curious about what our reactions would be in unusual circumstances? Probably all of the above, but I know that I have certainly imagined myself and what my reactions would be into my favourite stories.
I remember reading an article that claimed the ghost story was dying out, but I’m not at all sure that is true. I think rather that it is just evolving from the ‘slap-you-round-the-face’ gothic horror of old (Edgar Allen Poe I’m looking at you) to a subtler, more modern take. Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts is a very good example of this, as is The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Talking of more modern stories, is now a good time to mention the one and only Stephen King as well? I know he is often frowned upon, but is there a scarier story than The Shining? Even the film makes me fearful of going upstairs on my own, let along the book (which is far, far scarier I think)!
Some of my more historic treats include The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This is on my bedside table ready for a re-read on 31st! I’ve also long had a soft spot for Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James. Hardly anyone I mention this treasure-trove to in real live has heard of this so I’m hoping my internet friends can join me in singing its praises as a good, old-fashioned set of spine-tinglers!
It would be rude of me not to include Susan Hill’s wonderful The Woman in Black in any post about ghost stories. I’ve mentioned my love for this before, but let me restate it! This is without a doubt the best ghost story I have ever read. Modern gothic and truly terrifying! It is also one of those rare books that made the world change, just a little bit, when you finish it and realise that black print on a page made you feel more alive than you have for weeks or maybe months. I’ve also been to see this on the stage in London. It had been a very long time since I had read the book at that time and so my recollection of it was somewhat hazy. This turned out to be extremely fortunate because I had the joy of being scared out of my wits all over again! There were only three actors and almost no scenery or props and yet it was one of the most enthralling three hours of my life! If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, and enjoy a bit of white knuckle terror go, go, go!!
Have a fun and happy Halloween! You’ll find me, ignoring my door bell, curled up with a fright-fest of books!