Top positive review
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Great stories by a great writer
on 25 January 2009
To my knowledge, this is the first complete paperback collection of Edith Wharton's ghost stories, and a solid collection it is too. There are the famed chillers 'Afterwards' and 'The Triumph Of Night', but even the weaker tales have their merits, which is what raises Wharton above many of the other authors who wrote horror in the style of Henry James (by whom the tales in this volume are very clearly influenced).
Her stories are completely devoid of antiquarians and scholars, as in the modern ghost story tradition, being concerned instead with inter-personal relationships and the way the supernatural impinges on them. The deconstruction of the husband-wife relationship in 'Pomegranate Seed' is a good example of this, in its examination of the wife's fear of the-other-woman. Wharton is at her best when she's at her most under-stated, whereas her weakest work is when she merely recycles gothic staples. 'The Eyes' for example, with it's looming evil eyes that appear by a bed, isn't sufficiently chilling for a modern reader.
The prose is surprisingly accessible. You don't need a humanities degree to enjoy Edith Wharton's stories, so if you're new to ghost stories I think you'll find her work more easy going than some of the other NAME writers. There's a nice balance of description and dialogue and the issues she addresses, for these are stories about people first and ghosts second, are universal. She doesn't have command of the chilling structure of Le Fanu, but her endings are always enjoyable and give you a good sense of the "ah, so that's it", which any good short must do.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Great for a rainy Saturday afternoon and I'd say it's an obligatory purchase for anyone who likes a good ghost story. Of the few truly great American ghost story writers, Edith Wharton is very, very near the top.