Ghost stories, two magical words I can’t resist. Even though I’ve never read anything by Roald Dahl yet except for a quote at a local library – I did watch the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and loved it – I was curious to see what this book had to offer.
There are 14 stories in the book, all of them chosen (none of them written) by Roald Dahl.
I had no idea Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories and was pleasantly surprised to discover I enjoyed her contribution to this collection. Her story, Afterward, is about a couple whose search for the perfect old house with its own ghost brings them to Dorsetshire where they found what they were looking for: an old house without the modern day amenities such as a heating system, running water or electricity, all of which seems to add to the charm and authenticity of the place rather than diminish it. There is a ghost, too, but like one of the characters said, “Oh, there is one, of course, but you’ll never know it”. She was right, and how her words proved to be true makes for a very interesting tale.
The Corner Shop, by Cynthia Asquith, tells the story of a man who makes a pleasant discovery of a little antique shop and upon browsing through its wares, decides to get a wedding gift for a friend. Impressed by the whole atmosphere of the place and delighted by the help he receives from the two lovely young women running the business, the man decides to go back for another visit. Only this time he finds an old man and the cheerfulness is replaced by gloom. After buying a carved figurine, the young man discovers his purchase is worth a small fortune and decides to give some of the money back to the owners of the shop. To his surprise, he finds out an incredible story from the two young women, a story tinged with regret and an old man’s desire to make amends for something that happened in his past. This was a lovely story with a beautiful message.
In the Tube, by E.F. Benson, a conversation between friends turns to a confession which brings about an interesting dilemma. Introducing the story through a rather philosophical approach about life and time, the narrator talks about seeing a man while traveling by tube, a man who disappears only a few moments later, even though the doors of the train are closed. The next day he is introduced to the same person, but the man does not recognize him, in fact he says he’d only arrived into the city that very morning. Things get even stranger as the narrator sees the man again in the underground station that very night committing suicide by jumping in front of the tube. The story ends with a dead man’s request to set things right.
Playmates, by A.M. Burrage, is about a reclusive man called Stephen Everton, who decides to take care of Monica, the young daughter of a poet who died, leaving his child an orphan. Together with some servants and his secretary, accompanied by Monica, Everton moves to an old, isolated house in Suffolk, and there the child is left pretty much to herself, as Everton is busy with his writing. But they are not alone in the house, and as the girl tells Everton about her “imaginary friends”, the man’s reaction changes from incredulity to one of acceptance. What will happen to the pour harmless souls who live in the house after Monica goes away to study? I liked the story because it revealed another facet of Everton’s personality, thus making him appear more human.
Christmas Meeting, by Rosemary Timperley, is about a 50 years old woman who remembers different Christmases throughout her life, from childhood to adulthood and now, in her late years, her first Christmas alone. Her reverie is interrupted by a young man who bursts into her room by mistake, and the two strike up a conversation. The young man is a writer, the woman finds out, and as the story progresses, it is clear that past and present have broken their boundaries in an astonishing turn of events. A beautiful and enigmatic story which for some reason left me feeling a wave of tenderness for its protagonists.
In The Sweeper, by A. M. Burrage, an old and wealthy lady never turns a beggar from her door. That is unusual, as Miss Ludgate is not a particularly generous person when it comes to other people. There is a story behind this preference which springs from a mistake done in the past and a promise made with a last dying breath.
I liked the variety of the stories – two of them were set at sea, others took place in old houses, another on the street; only one resembled a love story. Even though the name of the book sounds pretty scary, I would rank the stories as “mild” – none of them really made me jump out of bed and turn on all the lights. In fact it’s been a while since a book did that and if you, reader, have a suggestion of a really scary book, I’d love to hear it.
*Read in April, 2012
Coming up: a review of The Vampire Archives, an amazing, delightful, horrific book!