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Beware of the haunted book,
This review is from: The Haunted Book (Hardcover)
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In the introduction to The Haunted Book, author Jeremy Dyson explains how he was approached by a journalist called Aiden Fox who is a collector of true life ghost stories. Knowing of Dyson's credentials as a writer interested in the strange and macabre, Fox contacted Dyson to beef up and fill out some of his stories for publication in book format. Fox has himself only published barebones versions of the tales in his regular newspaper column in the Bath Chronicle.
In order to do justice to the stories, Dyson explains that he felt it would be of benefit to travel to the various locations in which the events took place. During these jaunts Dyson himself started to feel his old long suppressed fears re-surfacing and tells of how he kept seeing, or thinking he was seeing, a small childlike figure. Eventually, after accounts of several of Fox's stories, at one location in Cornwall Dyson is presented with a book published in 1978 called This Book is Haunted. Fifty or so pages of this book are reproduced with stories similar in tone to those that have already been recounted by Dyson. This book in turn cites an earlier work, A Book of Hauntings. The lengthy extract from this subsequent book is then interrupted by an earlier text, Glimpses in the Twilight. Finally.....well, that would be telling.
Essentially then The Haunted Book is a collection of ghost stories and narratives of inexplicable happenings with an intriguingly recursive Russian Doll structure. Each of the stories, whether appearing in the context of The Haunted Book, or in This Book is Haunted or A Book of Hauntings, can be enjoyed as discrete stand-alone tales, but the ingenious scaffolding is really best appreciated by reading the book through as a novel. This way the pattern, threads and echoes can be best appreciated.
Some of the stories are stronger than others but there are no outright stinkers and all add up to create a cumulative atmosphere of what Dyson calls ehrfurcht, which as explained in the introduction means, roughly, a reverence for that which we cannot understand. For me the most effective stories are the longer ones like A Wire With Gain and Tetherdown Lock, which are effective and creepy, all the more so for their refusal to fill in all the gaps as it were (what did ultimately happen to Gabby in A Wire With Gain for example?) Having said that the story that is really haunting me is the not remotely scary tale of The Pleasure Park, which is more a report of a melancholy obsession than a ghost story. It is also giving me a nagging sense of déjà vu, making me think I've read something very similar to it before. (Is this one of Dyson's cunning tricks, I wonder.) Alongside all the stories, the clever and elaborate structure allows for meditations on different types of ghost stories, their appeal and the range of explanations used to rationalise or understand the phenomena they describe. However ingenious the structure, I do think the final pay-off is nigglingly unsatisfying - but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise superlative collection.
Other things to note: Ardel Wray one of the (male) characters in the Tetherdown Lock story shares a name with the (female) screenwriter on several of Val Lewton's classic 1940s horror films. (Indeed Dyson has written a fond study of classic black and white supernatural movies called Bright Darkness, wherein Lewton's films are rightly celebrated, especially the Wray co-written I Walked With A Zombie.)
One of Zurau's songs mentioned in A Wire With Gain is called The Houses of the Russians; this is also the title of a story by Robert Aickman, a master of the unsettling short story form, who as was confirmed in the League of Gentlemen's Book of Precious Things is a major inspiration on Dyson, Gatiss and co and here clearly an influence on some of the stories. It is from Aickman, incidentally, that Dyson borrows the concept of ehrfurcht.
Speaking of echoes and continuities, try reading the names of the authors of the books within the book (H Den Fawkes and so on) out loud and compare the aural similarities with Dyson's co-author Aiden Fox. And indeed the mysterious entity 8-10-4x (again say it out loud: Eight-Ten-Four Ex).
I should add that the hardback edition is a lovely object in its own right - it would not have the same impact, I don't think, if you read this on your e-reader, especially the plunge into darkness towards the end, nor the notion of the book as a physical object into which you can be lured and lost.
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Initial post: 28 Nov 2012 22:44:06 GMT
Thanks for elucidating some of the references. I was very pleased with myself for (eventually) seeing why Dyson had chosen those particular names for the various authors, but Ardel Wray still had me puzzled.
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