Suzi Feay: Don't be scared, it's only Henry James
Sunday 16 November 2008
Ghost stories are just the thing for curling up with on a winter night, and at first Everyman's
Ghost Stories (£10.99) seems to fit the bill. There are some wonderfully effective tales here: W W Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw" never loses its creepy appeal, while Alison Lurie's "The Highboy", about a piece of furniture with malevolent intent, is a more recent classic. P G Wodehouse and Elizabeth Taylor and Walter de la Mare all play by the rules. But it left me wondering whether the better the writer, the less effective the ghost story.
The rot sets in with a typically maddening piece by Henry James, "The Friends of the Friends" (awful title). It's a bafflingly oblique story about a man and a woman who manage never to meet in life but who may (or may not, the narrator's so loopy you can't tell) manage a post-mortem tryst. Contrast this exercise in super-subtlety with M R James's efficient shocker "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" with its "intensely horrible face of crumpled linen" and you know which one, in ghost story terms, was The Master. We're supposed to be chilled by a blast from the other world, not left pondering such truisms as "Other people are ultimately unknowable, aren't they?" or "Isn't it funny the way there's a gap between what we say and what we really mean?" Then there's Elizabeth Bowen's "The Happy Autumn Fields", a tiresome tale with too large a cast of indistinguishable characters for its puzzling pay-off. Katherine Mansfield's "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" is psychologically acute and funny too, but not really a ghost story; Nabokov's "The Visit to the Museum" is a superb tale of the uncanny, but again, not particularly ghostly.
Thank goodness, then, for Haunted London Underground (History Press £9.99), with its crying murdered children, faceless female spectres, amorphous black blobs and ghost trains. I read a lot of it while actually travelling on the Tube, which certainly added a frisson, though commuters can rest assured that most apparitions affect night workers when all the lines have closed. And if there's a trainspottery tone to the proceedings (the Hadley Wood South tunnel is apparently haunted not just by any old train but by a D9020 Nimbus), then that's understandable, even laudable. It's the juxtaposition of the banal with the supernatural that works every time, as M R James well knew.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 4 Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow
- 5 Ross Burden dead: MasterChef and Ready Steady Cook star dies at age 45 after suffering from cancer
Best TV shows on Netflix: 26 series to binge on
Led Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Freddie Prinze Jr on 24: 'Kiefer Sutherland was the most unprofessional dude in the world – I hated every moment of it'
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >