The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories

This classic selection of ghost stories ranging chronologically from Elizabeth Gaskell to Ambrose Bierce is a fascinating read. There's something for every horror aficionado here with out-and-out scary stories to psychologically disturbing, even some with a hint of humour. There's also a good variety of stories by well-known writers such as Charles Dickens (The signal-man), Sheridan LeFanu (Green Tea) and M.R. James (O whistle, and I'll come to you my lad). There are also some great lesser-known tales by significant writers, Edith Wharton's chilling, and extremely creepy, Afterward, The jolly corner by Henry James - interesting but nowhere near so scary as The Turn of the Screw and Rudyard Kipling's claustrophobic At the end of the passage.

Where this collection really triumphs however is in its use of short stories by lesser known writers. My favourites were by a quartet of women writers : Mary Elizabeth Braddon's The cold embrace, which I'm sure was an influence on the film Shutter; the extremely frightening The North Mail by Amelia B. Edwards, the moving The open door by Margaret Oliphant - one of the few ghost stories in my experience that produced chills and sympathy in equal measure; and a ghost story with an element of the murder mystery The wind in the rose-bush by Mary Wilkins-Freeman. These four authors were quite well-known in their day, some producing sizeable bodies of work, and certainly after reading these short stories I would love to read something further by them.

Along with these I loved the language of Harriet Beecher Stowe's The ghost in the Cap'n Brown house, (it inspired me to move on to my next read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and without doubt the most horrifying tale was W.W. Jacobs' The monkey's paw, a brilliantly shocking story.

If you want a truly scary set of ghost-stories this volume may not be the best one for you. What this volume does provide however is a striking collection of ghost-stories that illustrate what a wide field the genre can encompass featuring adventure stories, romance, crime, the psychological thriller, and humour.

It's a great collection to browse for an introduction to the genre, with some truly surprising and riveting reads. It may be too late for Halloween but worth getting for ghost stories around the Yule fire.


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