chestnut book blog

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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!


Top Eight Books for Summer

I mentioned recently that I have books I definitely consider to be ‘summer’ books, to be read on holiday and when the weather is balmy. I thought I’d make a list of the top eight (I tried to do five, but just couldn’t narrow it down!) in my opinion and see if you agreed or disagreed with me!

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan

One of my favourite ever books. The description of a summer of privilege at a country house before disaster strikes is beautiful.

2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Scarlett O’Hara just demands to be read in summer so we can imagine the sultry southern heat at Tara.

3. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I first read Harry Potter on holiday in Italy in 2000 so it is forever associated with summer for me.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Escaping the heat of New York, Nick Caraway is sucked into the ill-fated love affair of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan one summer.

5. The Stand by Stephen King

My favourite Stephen King is between this and The Shining, but this shouts summer to me I think. It is an epic battle of good and evil in the Nevada desert.

6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I blogged about this recently, but a wonderful summer read.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

It marked the summers of my school years when we read it often, with the smell of freshly mown grass in the air.  What an incredible story!

8. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

That image of the children playing in the rye is haunting and all about summer.

Will you be reading any of these this summer?