chestnut book blog

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Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

I like a good scare now and again so last week I picked up Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. The cover itself is very atmospheric and it promised a ‘chilling ghost story’ – perfect I thought! I curled up in bed and began to read. An hour later, way past my bedtime, I was getting increasingly uneasy and had to give myself a stern talking to. I put the book down and went to sleep. The next evening, I couldn’t wait ’til bedtime to start it again and so read it solidly all evening. There were many more stern talkings to myself and shivers down my spine during the course of the book.

It is a slim volume but it punches above its weight. Paver describes the stillness and eerieness of the Arctic beautifully. The end note explains that she has actually been there, which is why it is so wonderfully realised I think. One aspect that struck a chord with me in particular was the description of Jack’s unease with a lack of curtains in his hut. There is nothing for miles, but the main character Jack worries about the lack of curtains, wondering who can look in from the Arctic night and see him, lit up by the temperamental stove. As someone who also likes the security of drawing thick fabric against the night, I completely empathised. The development of Jack’s relationship with the husky Isaak is also moving.

In parts, this book is truly terrifying. It tracks Jack and his friends progress from London on an arctic expedition. When they reach their chosen destination, Gruhuken, strange events build up to a horrifying crescendo. Paver also deals with class and friendship along the way which makes this more than a standard ghost story; it is thought-provoking in many ways. My only criticism of this book really was that the ending felt a little rushed but that was probably because I was enjoying it so much I wanted more. If you are looking for an atmospheric and chilling ghost story to read this winter, I’d highly recommend this one, just don’t read it alone in an isolated farmhouse / hut / cottage!


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Spine-Tingling Halloween Ghost Stories

Witch on a broom image

 

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!