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Ghost Stories

Well, I’ve got my Halloween reading all stacked up on my bedside table. Right now, I’m reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and I intend to start Mary Roach’s new book, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, soon. Once I’m done with Coraline, I’ll move onto Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck—it’s a book I remember reading and re-reading in grade school—and that should take me right through All Hallow’s Eve.

If you’re looking for a seasonal tale or two, I’ve got a few suggestions for you…

The Haunting of Hill HouseAs I explained when I reviewed The Haunting of Hill House last year, my young students were not overly impressed with this book when I made them read it—they thought it was pretty good, but they didn’t find it all that frightening. Well, it certainly frightens me, every time I read it. I kind of get the creeps just thinking about it. Shirley Jackson strikes a perfect—and thoroughly chilling—balance between psychological suspense and supernatural horror.

More Than You KnowA tale of young love told in retrospect, Beth Gutcheon’s More Than You Know seems like it’s going to be a nice little work of what is commonly known as “women’s fiction”. What it is, though, is a really freaking scary ghost story. It’s also wonderfully well-written—lyrical, but unostentatious, and completely absorbing. For a more detailed endorsement, please see my full review.

Beyond BlackIn the very excellent review of Beyond Black she wrote for The New Yorker, Joan Aocella described Hilary Mantel’s work as “eschatology crossed with comedy”. That about sums it up, I think. Many of her books—Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession, Fludd, even her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost—take place in the same fictional universe, and it’s a universe in which the truly terrible coexists with the truly hilarious. Mantel believes in evil—she believes in a personal evil; that is, the devil—but this doesn’t make her a Puritan or a scold; rather, it makes her sense of the absurd seem like a kind of existential wisdom, and it imbues her work with an almost saintly sympathy.

Everything I’ve just written is even more true in her latest novel. Beyond Black is filled to bursting with malevolent spirits and demonic trauma, and, from this witch’s brew, Mantel conjures a story that is not just alarming, but also very funny and even—ultimately—strangely uplifting.

October 24, 2005 | Permalink

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