New Year Spooks

Coming across a selection of E.F. Benson's ghost stories, edited by Mark Gatiss, under Penguin's Vintage label, was a real treat. Prior to finding this collection, I was only aware of one of Benson's stories - The bus conductor - which had been ingrained in my memory since watching the wonderful British portmanteau horror film Dead of Night. 

This Vintage collection brings together nine of Benson's best tales. Some are pure ghost stories, and these I thought were the most successful, while others belong more in the horror genre. The last three tales were firmly in the latter genre, but although there was a certain level of similarity between them, this took nothing away from the sheer creepiness of And no bird sings. A creepy tale of phantasms in what should have been a heavenly British woodland.

My favourite tales though were the ghost stories, and what an unusual combination they were, from the eerie In the tube, part ghost story, part an odd presaging of the future; The Bus Conductor, subtly different from its incarnation in Dead of Night, and which has, as Gatiss points out, almost achieved the status of an urban legend. Most compelling for me was The room in the tower, a simple but hypnotic tale, that managed to turn a seemingly innocent comment into a source of terror.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Spinach where a pair of fraudulent mediums got rather more than they'd bargained for. Many of Benson's ghostly tales remind you that this is the guy who wrote the Mapp and Lucia novels. They have a light touch, and are often blackly humorous, but some of the stories are truly scary pointing to Benson's other side - he was, apparently, a keen writer of crime fiction too. Whether you enjoy the criminal or comic Benson, though, these ghost stories are brilliant; coming from the great tradition of English ghost story writing such as M.R. James. Perfect reading for a ghostly time of the year.


Popular Posts