House Of Fear from Solaris is billed as an anthology of 'haunted house' stories, but that's not quite true. For one thing there's a haunted windmill, a haunted camper-van, a haunted doll-house... And for another, if 'haunted' means merely inhabited by a ghost then not all these places are haunted (although some most definitely are). If, however, 'haunted' means infected fear, guilt, and secrets then yes, these stories most definitely tell of hauntings...
How do you judge whether an anthology is good or not? One can't expect to love all of the stories, after all. But by any objective criteria I can think of House Of Fear isn't a good anthology; it's a great one:
Objects in Dreams May be Closer Than They Appear - Lisa Tuttle. Okay, Lisa Tuttle is not a writer who is new to me, but this story was, and it might be the best thing by her I've ever read. It's a story of our dream house (and dream life) as a trap, and it's deeply unnerving. And it would be the winner of the best titled story in the anthology, if not for:
- Is the 'strike rate' of brilliant stories to merely average ones amazingly, impossibly high? Check
- Do the stories selected illuminate and contrast well with each other? Check
- Does the anthology introduce you to a load of great new authors you've not read before? Check, check, check
Here were a few of my favourite stories; I plan to write about some of these in more detail in my Strange Stories feature at some point.
The Dark Space in The House in The House in The Garden at The Centre of The World - Robert Shearman. Manages to combine the haunted house theme with an off the wall creation myth, a satirical look at modern middle-class life, and humour that genuinely made me laugh (especially the bits about cancer). The kind of bravura story you feel like applauding after you finish it.
Florrie - Adam L.G. Nevill. I've not read anything by this author before (despite the fact he's always cropping up in my Amazon recommendations) and I've obviously been a fool not to. A brilliant re-imagination of the tired old ghostly possession story.
The Room Upstairs - Sarah Pinborough. Another author new to me, and another where I think I must have been missing out. I've talked a lot on this blog about ambiguity as it relates to ghosts, but in this story the reality of the haunting and its metaphorical aspects dovetail together so well it almost doesn't matter. The ending is inevitable (and brilliant) either way.
Inside/Out - Nicholas Royle. A truly bizarre tale of identical girls, Hitchcock references, dream-like logic, and a house with two doors (like Doctor Jekyll's). Excellent.
There are lots of other really strong stories in this book though, and none of them are anything less than worth a read. Heartily recommended.