Friday, 31 October 2014

Spooky Hallowe'en reading

I thought, since it's Hallowe'en, that I'd list some of my all-time-favourite supernatural spook tales. These are absolute classics, so if you haven't read them yet, this is a good way to catch up! Oh, and all the authors are dead, so I don't feel bad linking to Project Gutenberg or whatever.

Pictures are (mostly) of Japanese ghost art - just because I love the Edo period style and find the subjects deliciously creepy.  Happy Hallowe'en!

1) The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (Edgar Allan Poe). Come on, I had to start with a Poe, because he's really the first great horror writer whose work still stands up on its own merits today. Many of his stories centre on protagonists who are emotionally overwrought, to say the least, but this little tale is a stone-cold recounting of a scientific experiment with horrible results.

2) The Statement of Randolph Carter (H. P. Lovecraft). Perhaps my favourite horror author of all, and this is his tale that most nearly approaches a ghost story ... perhaps. His style is idiosyncratic (nay, notorious) so the best approach is not to resist but to suspend disbelief and let it sweep you along - the cumulative effect of all that hyperbole is a dizzying existential vertigo.

3) Wailing Well (M.R. James). James is THE Edwardian master of the English ghost story, conjuring a world of stuffy bachelor academics who are plunged into the most dreadful hauntings. Practically everything he wrote is a little masterpiece of the genre, but I've picked Wailing Well (I almost picked The Mezzotint, or Rats) because it starts off as a humorous boarding-school skit and then sucker-punches you with terror. This story messed me up for years.

4) The Monkey's Paw (W.W. Jacobs). If you polled every ghost-story lover in the world for their favourite, this story would feature in the top three, I reckon. Its power hinges on what you don't see, and that is the most terrifying thing of all.

5) The Upper Berth (F. Marion Crawford). Again, it's the sudden juxtaposition of complacent middle-class comfort with the chaos and foulness of death that offers the glimpse into the abyss.

6) The White People (Arthur Machen). Not a ghost story, and in fact the Horror is uncategorizable and utterly unique (an extraordinary achievement within the genre!), but I couldn't leave it out because I just adore it. This story of a precocious girl-child who delves into ancient mysteries is unsettling because it only hints and suggests at the mental and physical corruption she is so gleefully undergoing. Chilling stuff. This might be the hardest to read of Machen's wonderful supernatural tales, but it's the most rewarding, I think.

7) A Woman Seldom Found (William Sansom). Short and shocking! And a rare (and successful) attempt to mix sex with scares.

8) Thurnley Abbey (Percival Landon). Well this kept me awake a few nights, I can tell you! It brings fear right into the place you want it least - the sanctuary of your own warm bed. "I remember still how my sweat-dripping pyjamas clung to me..." Also memorable for the way the protagonist doesn't maintain a stiff upper lip or faint decorously, as protagonists in ghost stories are supposed to: he wigs-out and completely loses his temper in a passion of hysterical rage.

9) The Entrance (Gerald Durrell). Yes, the zoo guy! The last hurrah, perhaps, of the ghost-story trope of cosy upper-middle-class gentlemen in peril, before it all got overtaken by urban squalor and social realism. This story managed to induce in me a decades-long nervousness of mirrors. I'm over it now. Honest.

At least by daylight.

Well, that lot should keep you going! Have a spooky and shiversome Hallowe'en!

No comments: