This is a fabulously odd book and not what it seems. It is however frequently chilling and occasionally scary. The synopsis of the book is deliberately misleading, this isn't some "Most Haunted" style investigation.
In the best and scariest Ghostwatch tradition Dyson presents us with "true stories" to great effect. This collection of ghost stories is quite unlike any other I've read, with the growing feeling that there's a little more going on than we realise. Whilst some are self contained there's a link which builds throughout, and demands to be read in once piece and in order. As would be expected from a "League of Gentlemen" creator there are some dark twists and turns here, and this is the first book I've read where the ending is quite literally dark.
Taken individually there are some cracking little ghost stories. Instead of M.R. James's antiquarian curiosity unleashing a maleveolent force in one tale instead it's a love of classic lines and vintage telephones that does the business; how trendy. Another tantalising tale tells of a government bunker under Pendle Hill, where perhaps the witches still linger.
Dyson writes best when he covers his home ground, particularly on the moors above Ilkley. A little forgotten for supernatural tales of terror, Rombalds Moor "baht at" is just as evocative as Dartmoor. He brings in little touches of humour and plays on words to link the various supposed excerpts from other antiquarian books, "reproduced" all mottled and stained through age. These tales go back to Edwardian England and beyond, Dyson writes with a convincing period turn whilst being accessible and easy to read.
It's best not to say too much more, this book should be discovered by the reader as a whole. It's enough to say there's a lot to enjoy, and if you think League of Gentlemen weirdness and dark originality mixed with a ghost story anthology hardback like you might pick up in a charity or used bookshop, you'll get the book.
It's an odd book, but a genius one as well. Wonderful reading for an autumn afternoon or a winter night.
This is a difficult book to review, at least without giving away a fair amount that the reader might prefer to discover alone. I have tried not to do that, but if you're sensitive to spoilers, you might be best advised to stop at the end of the next sentence. Before you do, I can promise that this book is creepy, twisty and a perfect scary read for a dark winter evening.
If you're still with me, the book opens with Dyson being approached by a journalist who has collected a file of "true hauntings". Dyson sets out to investigate these. There are ten of them, with locations shown out on a map on page 20. Dyson visits the sites in turn, taking in the atmosphere and (re)telling the stories, each of which is introduced by a brief description of what he found and felt there. These descriptions take on an increasingly ominous tone, a growing impression of... something... coming to him, an impression deepened when the pattern of his visits is interrupted by older and older stories, whose writers in turn seem to suffer similar hauntings, I suppose. There is an intricate structure in this, with links and similarities between the different levels of the overall story. It's a complex structure, increasingly strange, until the last section which I admit left me slightly baffled - I'm still unsure whether there is a key there that unlocks the rest of the book, or it is just a convenient way to close of the different levels of reference and end the book.
Whatever the answer to that, Dyson understands the business of scaring people, and he knows how to tell a story. The "hauntings" described here - which include strange creatures sheltering in a rundown asylum; a spirit of darkness and gnawing appetite roaming bleak moorland; a persecuted witch-child; an elusive fairground found once and then lost - are all disturbing. They all feel like little slices out of real lives: the details convince and the characters feel real, so that when weird things happen, they seem all the more weird and yet at the same time all the more probable.
A book to read and re-read, I think.
A final note: this is a sumptuously produced hardback, designed to look like an aged, battered tome, and the stories are illustrated with creepy line illustrations. Definitely one to enjoy as a physical, rather than e, book.
Jeremy Dyson is a screenwriter/author who has worked extensively on TV, radio, film and stage. His work is often nominated for awards but it's probably true to say most people in the UK will know Dyson for his input into the League of Gentlemen, Funland and The Armstrong and Miller Show. Dyson's a talented writer with a deeply dark imagination and he doesn't do ordinary. That's why The Haunted Book is anything but a collection of traditional ghost stories and more a mashup of themes featuring the uncanny, mysterious, paranormal, supernatural, curious and the downright weird.
The main concept behind the Haunted Book is that Dyson's been asked to knock some literary shape, do some research, into a series of random, spooky stories reported from across the country. In and around the stories he's added hints, snippets, from other Haunted Books (maybe this is the first of a series) and created a separate mystery surrounding a shady character paying him to write.
If you ignore the extra content and concentrate on the stories you'll probably find, as I did, there are several incredibly well worked plots in here and they're seriously creepy. I felt genuinely unsettled reading them. Unfortunately, not all of the stories are scary but are trademark Dyson in that they're dark, twisted, packed with atmosphere and populated with freaky characters.
The Haunted Book is odd, unique, complex, compelling and I enjoyed the reading experience. To be totally honest I was somewhat addicted and couldn't wait to read the thing!!!! My reason for a 4 and not 5 star review is simply that, in my own opinion, a collection of short stories would have been better than this extended mystery. Dyson is such a good storyteller and knows how to ramp up psycholigcal tension, put you on the edge of your seat, he has a serious talent and the extra time spent on the stories might have created something outstanding.
Jeremy Dyson is the member of The League of Gentlemen team who doesn't appear on screen. He's also the co-writer of the stage hit Ghost Stories, a deeply unsettling play in the `portmanteau' format beloved of British horror films of the 1960s and 70s, in which several separate stories are told within a overarching narrative. Like his fellow Gentlemen Reece Shearsmith and Mark Gatiss, Dyson seems to have a frame of horror interest that's incredibly similar to my own, heavily influenced by pre-1975 films, short story anthologies and slightly cheaply-produced books called things like `The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts'. If he's got a pack of vintage Horror Top Trumps knocking around, used to collect Armada Ghost Books, always chose the Dracula ice lolly and got Shiver & Shake annual for Christmas every year, he's probably just me in a parallel universe in which I am inexplicably a successful male northern writer.
The Haunted Book, then - also in the `portmanteau' format, and presented as a work of non-fiction in which Dyson is commissioned by the mysterious Aiden Fox to compile a collection of mostly contemporary British ghost stories - should by rights have been the perfect read for me. And, as I would have expected, a lot of it did certainly resonate with me.
Each story-within-the-story (and there are many) is a gem. Some of them are ghost stories in the conventional sense. A man is haunted by a ghostly voice from a disconnected phone, for instance, and an evil spirit stalks an old library. Some of them, however, are something different, and ultimately more unsettling: the one that has continued to nag at my subconscious since I finished the book over a week ago features no actual `ghosts' at all, but rather a family trying to find an abandoned amusement park they once visited but have never been able to locate again. It's a story where what remains unsaid and unexplained is more disturbing than what is. And most - perhaps all - the stories have a strong psychological undercurrent that suggests that what we're really frightened of most of all is ourselves.
There's more to The Haunted Book than just a collection of stories. However, it's almost impossible to go into much detail about what is arguably the most interesting aspect of the book without giving away the end, and the experience of reading it does rely somewhat on that end coming as a surprise. It's probably enough to say that the title of the book is no accident, as Dyson (in his fictional guise as the protagonist, at least) discovers books within books within books, all written by authors with curiously significant names. Those who went to see Ghost Stories may remember what happens to Dr Goodman, the rationalist sceptic and professor of parapsychology (played by Andy Nyman in the production I saw) who tells the stories themselves, and also the degree to which the audience were drawn into the production. Perhaps elements of The Haunted Book will come as less of a surprise to them.
Without giving any further explanation, I'll just say that while the end of The Haunted Book is undeniably a clever one that elevates the book above a straightforward ghost story collection, I also found its high-concept artifice a little distancing. The element of the novel that's supposed to really draw the reader in was, for me, the very thing that made me feel as if I was taking a step back and losing contact with the chilling undercurrent of the book overall. Perhaps the fault lies with me, and I was too busy looking out for it, too keen to analyse. But all that said, I can't help but admire the way Dyson brings the novel together at its conclusion for its sheer ingenuity. It's an ending that will stay with me for some time, and I suspect it will stand up to repeated re-readings.
I have to say I was disappointed by this book. Dyson certainly writes well and it's a nicely-produced book, and I like the framing idea (later on it becomes a book...within a book...within a book...). It starts well, and the first few stories start to build a nice creepy atmosphere; disparate locations, different people and times, but what appears to be a hint of a common "something". Perhaps behind you. Why not turn round and look, because there's obviously nothing there. Right?
I really thought it was building into something different - like a cross between "House of Leaves" and a text version of the video from "Ringu". And then it just seems to drift to an end. The last section makes sense, but just felt unsatisfying.
Dyson is undoubtedly a talented writer blessed with a very vivid imagination (by all accounts his play "Ghost Stories" is utterly terrifying), but this just didn't work for me. Some have compared this to M.R. James, but it's nowhere near as unsettling as his stories. Roald Dahl may be a better comparison.
This book takes the form of an author who is supposedly a sceptic about all things spooky but who finds himself involved with a number of spooky stories. The author has been approached by a journalist who has come into possession of a whole lot of journals, notes, stories etc, and who was looking for a writer to articulate these stories into a ‘fictional’ nature so that there was an immediacy to the experiences of these people. The first half or so of the book is narrated by the author as he travels to the areas of the stories that he is writing for the ultimate book, interspersed with the short stories that he has written around these ‘haunted’ places. At the end of this section of the book he is given a book to read entitled “This Book is Haunted” and the book then moves into a facsimile of this book within the book.
Maybe I’m just getting more cycnical with the years, but I think the most frightening thing about this book was the cover – it took me a while to realise there was a very cleverly faded image of a face on the front cover (of the hardback edition). The book is cleverly put together, with faded pages and different typefonts throughout as the stories unfold into stories within stories. And the premise of putting the stories together from original written accounts is a good way to make the narrative coherent. But the stories themselves are just not spooky, nor even particularly clever, so they don’t make the whole package an enticing one. It all seemed a bit too clever to me, so maybe I missed something that went over my head. But ultimately it didn’t really do a whole lot for me.
on 17 August 2013
I adore ghost stories, and ghosts, and everything to do with the supernatural, as long as it's well done - there is nothing worse than expecting to be scared and being utterly let down. The Haunted Book, as other reviewers have noted, isn't what you expect, and I think I was hoping for a straight forward anthology of stories whereas I got something very different.
I've not hear of Dyson before but he uses the gothic technique of the Chinese Box Narrative (a story within a story within a story) to great effect. The initial ghost stories are unsettling, and could have been made more of. The end of the book takes you by surprise, and is quite astoundingly beautiful. I wasn't quite sure where the book was going, and even where we were when it finished - but I'm glad I went with it. A peculiar, but nonetheless enjoyable, volume.
Ghosts..... Ohhhhhh I am so there. As I imagine is Jeremy Dyson , the co-creator of "The League Of Gentlemen", indeed I don't have to imagine. There it is on page 12 of this book. "Since the age of five or six I have been fascinated by the supernatural ".So finding out he had written , what I perceived rather naively as it turned out, to be a travelogue of haunted places thought , "I must get my hands on this book ".
Well as I intimated earlier this is rather odd book that is in no way what it first purports to be. The concept here is that a journalist, Aiden Fox, who writes a column about true ghostly encounters, has proposed a collaboration to Jeremy Dyson suggesting he provides his extensive source material and Dyson will write up the stories as fiction. Dyson after some deliberation accepts the offer, and vows to visit all the locations.
But here is the twist -the stories connected to these places are all actually works of fiction. .Then another twist , as Dyson suddenly comes upon a book, called `This Book is Haunted' which contains another book `A Book of Hauntings' inside it .So we have effectively a book of fiction inside a book of fiction that may or not be a total work( I suspect most strongly it is ) of fiction.
This is a brave stylistic gamble from the author. Some, like myself will applaud his audacity while not entirely understanding the conceit .Others will totally love it ,and other will hate its pretension and duplicity. The real decider should be does it work as an effective tale(s) of terror?
While very well written and at times completely compelling The Haunted Book is, for this reader, about as chilling and scary as an episode of "Young Dracula" ie not at all.
That's not to say it is,nt effective fiction, but if it,s main aim was to scare the reader rigid then it certainly falls well short. There is one more surprise for the reader, in the final, coal-black pages which explores the conventions and tricks of the form even further....well out there in fact
Which leads me to mention how brilliantly this book is designed , indeed I would call it a work of art. A beautifully conceived authenticating framing device: the dusty diary, the old newspaper clipping the bent yellowing pages , the aged garbled notes in the margins. The Haunted Book sets out not merely to entertain, but to embody a creeping menace with the very physical form of the book itself. It works better as that than as a work of terrifying literature.
The book begins with a preface by the author, explaining how, since childhood, he has harboured a fascination with the supernatural, both in physical (seeing a Hand of Glory, for example) and literary form. One of the books in his collection filled him with such an irrational fear that he couldn't bear to sleep in the same room as it, and had to remove it prior to going to bed. Growing into an adult, he became a sceptic, as most adults do, but his interest was reawakened by a journalist (Aiden Fox) contacting him to see if he wanted to turn Mr Fox's collection of real-life supernatural accounts into a work of fiction. Intrigued, Jeremy Dyson accepted and went about travelling the length and breadth of England to visit those places, thereby hoping to find inspiration for the evolving stories and recreating the guide-type nature of his childhood book that was able to exact such a powerful fascination on him. Some of the stories are preceded by a brief introduction where the author shares his thoughts and a growing sense of unease with the reader.
The first impression of the book is that it is beautifully produced, made to resemble a battered old tome with old-fashioned font and embossed front cover, complete with stains, invoking the impression that therein are dark and dangerous tales to be found. The second thing that struck me was that this seemed an intensely personal book, the author recreating those lost childhood days and experiencing almost a kind of catharsis by writing it. His writing, especially in those, what appeared to me, one-on-one exchanges, is very engaging, and I felt myself being drawn in. The stories themselves are a bit hit-and-miss, some starting promisingly but then fizzing out, whereas others start rather innocuously and then turn very eerie indeed, but common to all of them is a sense of dread or unease along the way. Roughly halfway through the book, the author suddenly devises what I can only describe as the literary equivalent of a Matryoshka nesting doll, and the result isn't entirely satisfactory, even if the unexpected ending somehow (with a lot of goodwill) makes sense. I grudgingly changed my initial, less favourable impression of the book after a fair amount of reflection, as I think one has to admire the skill and sheer inventiveness and originality of it, even though I still feel slightly annoyed at having been thus manipulated. I also don't like that the ending seems a little bit too clever by half, and I imagine Jeremy Dyson smiling a rather smug grin and giving himself a congratulatory clap on the back, not the best impression an author wants to leave behind after the final page has been turned. I fully expect that this book will leave readers divided: some loving and some loathing it; but the bottom line is that only your opinion counts.
on 16 January 2013
The slightly too clever construction of this book as a mixture of supposed fact and fiction doesn't quite work. If it had been simply 10 collected ghost stories, without the pretence of fact, it would have been much less annoying and would perhaps have warranted five stars as some of the stories are genuinely well constructed and chilling. The standout is Apparitions of Darkness: Case Two (the construction of the book prevents me from extracting a more concise title!) which is actually a very long (65 pages) "short" story reminiscent of the classic "Casting The Runes" in style. Any fan of classic Victorian/Edwardian supernatural fiction should buy the book just for this story alone.