Saturday 21 January 2017

The Haunted Library

My second book for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 is The Haunted Library, edited by Tanya Kirk.

This British Library collection of ghost stories comprises a dozen tales by a few authors that were very familiar to me and quite a few that were not, which is always nice. All concern books, libraries or bookshops in one fashion or another.

The first story in the volume, Afterward by Edith Wharton, an author whose books I've read several of, was one I thought I ought to have read before but couldn't remember. It involves an American couple who move to a secluded house in Dorset after selling a mine in America. The wife feels something isn't right after a man is seen walking up the drive... her husband goes to meet him but then gets rather shifty when asked about the episode. The writing, as always with Edith Wharton, was superb but the story didn't really convince me somehow. It felt contrived but was still enjoyable for the setting.

A well known tale by M.R. James, The Tractate Middoth, follows that, concerning a man looking for a book in an Oxford library and why he has to find it before a certain relative. Beautifully written but, for me, not one of James' best. Bone to Bone by E.G. Swain concerns a man who hears noises in his private library at night, goes to investigate and finds a book is sending him messages about going into the garden. A fun story. The Whisperers by Algernon Blackwood tells of a man who sleeps in the attic of a friend's shed, amongst his books, and hears voices in the night. An ok story but it seems I don't like this author's stories as much as I thought I did.

I liked Fingers of a Hand by H.D. Everett very much. Two maiden aunts are looking after neices and nephews and take them for a holiday in a cottage by the sea. Suddenly they're getting written messages all over the place telling them they must leave the cottage immediately. Nicely written and spooky. I thought it was based on a certain real life incident on the south coast but the one I'm thinking about happened well after the story was written, so it can't have been.

The Nature of the Evidence by May Sinclair is about a man whose beautful wife dies. Before she pops her clogs she tells him he can marry again but if it's the wrong woman she'll make it known, after her death, that she disapproves. Naturally she does. I thought this one was a bit ridiculous to be honest.

Mr. Tallent's Ghost by Mary Webb concerns a publisher haunted by a writer he didn't publish because the work was so bad, and The Lost Tragedy Denis Mackail is about a lost play by a famous playwright. Both of these were a bit so-so. The Book by Margaret Irwin was quite good, telling the story of a man who notices that there's always a gap on the second shelf of his bookcase, whether a book's been taken out or not. He finds a strange book then that has a malevolent affect on him and his family and starts telling him to do things. This was a good, atmospheric, tale.

I thought The Apple Tree by Elizabeth Bowen was one of the best stories in the book. Simon Wing, a middle-aged bachelor, suddenly marries a nineteen year old girl. Friends are worried and this is nicely put over by the use of a house party and two observers, Mrs. Bettersley and 'Lancelot' who discuss the problem as the story progresses. The new wife is strange, mixed up in some peculiar tragedy while she was still at school. Mrs. Bettersley is actually afraid of her... Very nicely written, creepy and full of atmosphere.

Herodes Redivivus by A.N.L. Munby was also very good. A man is invited by a friend to go to his flat one night to look at his books. The man discovers that his physician friend owns the very copy of a book that frightened him as fifteen year old boy. He had been wandering in Bristol and found an antiquarian bookshop down an alley. The bookshop owner was weird and offputting but sucked the boy in by showing him his private collection of books. This was a definitely a weird tale, nicely told.

The last story in this volume is The Work of Evil by William Croft Dickinson. The Keeper of Printed Books at a library is back after a long illness. He decides to show one of his employees the Special Collection which until now he's kept locked away and barred access to all. Why is he doing this now? Is there an ulterior motive? Interesting and creepy.

This was an enjoyable collection of ghost stories. Like all short story collections there are standout stories and ones that don't work so well. I also thought that sometimes the book connection was a bit tenuous, ie. books weren't necessarily the focal point, there just happened to be a library somewhere in the story. To be honest I didn't mind because even if the story did not work that well for me it was always well written and worth reading for the setting or the atmosphere or something.



DesLily said...

I am not fond of short stories..mostly because they end to soon! (duh) I am surprised they didn't have one of Wilkie Collins's short stories!

Cath said...

Pat, I'm less fond of short stories than I thought I was. LOL. Also they take longer to do a review of I notice... so I'm going back to longer books for a bit. Don't know why Wilkie Collins wasn't there, Charles Dickens wasn't either and quite a few others. Must be hard to choose when you're putting together a book like this I suppose. I liked that it introduced me to some new writers. Maybe Wilkie is too well known to go in. LOL

Val said...

Useful review Thanks Cath.
Have you read "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral" by Robert Westall ? if you haven't you might enjoy it....I first heard it as a Saturday Night Theatre radio play and really enjoyed it so searched out the book and it didn't disappoint.

Cath said...

Nope, haven't read or even heard of that one, Val. Checked to see if the library catalogue has it and it doesn't sadly. They do however have a lot by the same author so I'll check Fantastic Fiction to see if any of them are the same by another name. Thanks for the rec.

Val said...

Someone posted the radio play on youtube so I've linked to it in a new post Cath if you fancy a listen

Cath said...

Thanks very much, Val. I've bookmarked it to listen to when I've read the book/novella. I also reserved Antique Dust from the library. They had loads of his books but not the Muncaster Cathedral one. Typical.

Cath said...

By the way, Val, no sooner had I ordered the book from Amazon and they're sending me an email listing loads of other ghost story books... some of which look quite interesting. Oh dear...

Penny O'Neill said...

I think I would like this, although I am better at picking up books like this and read a story, then put it down. It is a wonder that I ever get through any short story collections.

Cath said...

I know exactly what you mean about short story collections, Penny. I can never decide whether to rush straight through all of them or take them a few at a time. Plus, they really are harder to review than a novel. I now tend to read several stories, make a few quick notes, and then read some more. I think the awkwardness of it makes me not read as many anthologies as I otherwise might.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I have pretty much the same thoughts as everyone else about the merits of a short story collection.

They are virtually impossible to review as there is so little narrative that 'spoilers' are almost inevitable.

If I was to go down the road of reading a work of a shorter length, I would probably stick to a book of poetry, which can be picked up and put down so easily.

I always used to enjoy ghost stories in my teenage reading years, so perhaps I should take a trip down memory lane before passing too many judgments :)


Cath said...

Yvonne: Glad it's not just me who has difficulty reviewing short story collections. With this one I read several, made some notes, read a few more. To be honest, it was a bit of a chore so I won't be reading another book of short stories for a while. LOL!