Monday, 11 December 2017

Recommendation: A Suggestion Of Ghosts (ed. J.A. Mains)

A Suggestion Of Ghosts is an important (and I don't use that word lightly) new anthology from Black Shuck Books—edited by J.A. Mains, it brings together fifteen ghost stories by women first published between 1854 and 1900. None have been republished since, meaning you're pretty unlikely to have read any of them before. It's a book that sheds interesting new light on the 19C ghost story and a lot of research and dedication has obviously gone into it, which the results fully justify. For this is no mere academic curio; these newly uncovered stories are not just intellectually interesting but as emotionally engaging and creepy as the best Victorian supernatural fiction.

As Lynda E. Rucker makes clear in her fascinating introduction, lots of female authors wrote ghost stories during this period (and still do) but somehow the big names that are remembered are the men: Henry James, MR James, Dickens et al. A Suggestion Of Ghosts provides a welcome corrective. The book is a treasure trove of stories from authors that will be new to even the most well-read horror aficionado (Mains's brief introductions to each story give useful biographical context for each writer.) The trappings and plots of many of these stories might sound familiar: cursed families, bleak landscapes, gothic dwelling places, and haunted rooms. But what's interesting is how these traditional tropes are made new and sinister by the different perspective the authors bring to them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the theme of female friendship features in many of the tales, and the spectres and beings that stalk these pages are often defeated not by male daring-do or action, but by female love and compassion.

Every story collected here is worth reading and rereading, for the new angles they provide on the ghost story. But naturally everyone will have their own subjective favourites. Personally, I loved the opener 'A Veritable Ghost Story' by Susanna Moodie in which a collection of motley characters in a tavern warn a traveller about an awful looking being that appears on a lonely road at the dead of night. And I must mention 'A Speakin' Ghost' by Annie Trumbull Slosson for its exceptionally skilful use of first-person vernacular, to tell a ghost story from a Christian point of view. And I especially loved the wonderful 'The Spectral Rout' by Francis Power Cobbe, in which the fear of poverty, of 'going down in the world' is at least as scary as the ghosts that haunt a pair of sisters in a house in Dublin. The evocation of their living conditions, their efforts to avoid the poorhouse, speaks to us across the generations about the fear that subconsciously fed into this scary and resonant tale.

You'll no doubt have your own favourites, if you read A Suggestion Of Ghosts. Which I highly, highly recommend that you do.

A Suggestion Of Ghosts (pre-order)

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