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on 29 May 2001
Lest five stars seem excessive for yet another "ghost book", I must say that I think that Cox and Gilbert have produced simply the best one-volume anthology of English-language ghost stories that there has ever been. For all that supernatural fictions have long been popular choices for the anthologist, this collection features more of the best and most enduring English ghost stories than have ever before appeared between two covers. Cox and Gilbert have included virtually all of the necessary favourites and many lesser-known gems as well. All of the major authors in the field are represented by some of their very best work and all the major movements within the English ghost-story are represented as well. For all that I could quibble about one or two inclusions and omissions, I honestly don't think that a better introduction to the English ghost story exists. Unreservedly recommended.
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on 21 April 2009
This book was published in 1986 and contained 42 short stories by as many writers. There were 35 writers from Great Britain, 4 from the U.S. and 3 from Ireland.

The works ranged from the 1820s (Walter Scott) to the 1960s (Aickman, Simon Raven). All but seven of the works were from the period between 1890 and 1960. Nine of the writers in the collection were women.

The editors tried to select stories that (1) featured -- naturally -- a ghost, (2) described dramatic interaction between the living and the dead, (3) had literary quality, (4) contained definite English settings such as characters, institutions, styles and themes representative of the English ghost story, and (5) weren't overlong. They tried to strike a balance between classics and lesser-known tales and show the development of stories particularly from 1890 to 1940, when they said the genre was at its peak. The pieces from writers outside Great Britain were included because they were deemed to show clearly their English roots.

An introduction briefly surveyed the English ghost story. The editors saw it as beginning to develop into a distinct form in the 1820s with Sir Walter Scott, with maturity furthered by LeFanu and Dickens and the greatest creativity achieved between 1890 and 1940. The contribution of many female authors was noted. The editors stated that at the time of the anthology's publication in the 1980s the literary ghost story still appealed, though it had been overtaken in popularity by science fiction and "crude horror."

Before 1890 or so, stories often went like this: a strange or tragic event occurred, it turned out to be caused by a ghost, especially a bad one, the end. Or someone saw a ghost repeating a tragic event. Later authors offered a much greater variety of tales. Classic works in the collection included an earlier one like "Squire Toby's Will" by LeFanu and later ones like "The Monkey's Paw" by Jacobs, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James, "The Empty House" by Blackwood -- a fantastic, atmospheric description of an expedition into a haunted house -- and "Smee" by A. M. Burrage. Judging from all the stories included, most variations of the literary ghost story were played out by the 1930s, and the most original writer from postwar times was Robert Aickman.

A number of the non-classic works in the collection seemed comparatively tame; authors who were academics and vicars were well represented. Other pieces, like those of Vernon Lee, Henry James, H. Russell Wakefield, were virtually unreadable. Welcome variety was provided by a lush, darkly ironic work by Elizabeth Bowen and one by Robert Aickman, which featured a powerful atmosphere of menace without a clear resolution, unlike most earlier tales. Also, stories from the 1920s by John Buchan and May Sinclair in which ghosts/haunted places had positive effects. The one by Buchan contained a nice description of English virtues, and Sinclair's story reworked ironically the conventional relations between murderer and victim, ghost and human. Another one from the 1920s, by Maugham, foretold death in a striking way.

It would've been enjoyable to read more examples in the collection of horror focused on the mind, probing more deeply things psychological, along the lines of something like LeFanu's "Green Tea." Other authors who might've been included in this collection: Kipling, Robert Hichens and Elizabeth Howard.

Readers who enjoyed the stories in this anthology might enjoy collections like The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories and The Penguin Book of Horror Stories, many of whose pieces were written in a similar traditional vein. Readers looking for a more exciting variety of pieces, both older and newer, might enjoy a collection like The Dark Descent. (Falling somewhere between these two poles, in my opinion, is Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, published in the U.S. in 1944.) Those interested most in the fairly recent and "crude," or in horror mixed with science fiction, fantasy and mystery, might enjoy The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural and The Mammoth Book of Terror.
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on 4 February 2009
A terrific compilation of traditional ghost stories from classic authors such as Walter Scott, John Buchan and W Somerset Maugham. If you are a fan of MR James or Sheridan Le Fanu you will definitely enjoy this book. All round a satisfying read.

If I were to make a suggestion on how you could improve the book, it would be the inclusion of a more comprehensive introduction, with more detail about the authors and what by what criteria the editors made their selection. However it would be a bit churlish to view this as a criticism, it doesn't detract from the quality of the stories.
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on 14 November 2015
A real treat ! A great selection of classic stories by most of the top writers of ghostly tales ! Still "The Monkeys Paw" has to be the finest (short) supernatural tale ever composed ! When is Mark Gatiss & associates going to film it for Xmas ? Can I be the 'Monkey' ?! 😉
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on 22 May 2013
They knew how to write a good ghost story back then and prove that it's about the writing and the suspense without needing to resort to sensationalistic horror; great stories and this is a great collection of the best.
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on 21 March 2013
Some of the stories were repeats. There seems to be, in this genre, a tendency to reprint the most-popular [sometimes, the same errors!] stories, and then go looking for less-well-know ones to ring the changes.
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on 4 August 2009
The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories contains a collection of 42 short ghost stories, written between the years 1829 to 1981, and arranged in chronological order.

I know nothing about the history of this genre, and I bought the book simply seeking to read a good yarn.

I found that I didn't enjoy the style of most of the older stories (1829 to early 20th century) that I attempted to read. This was partly because I found the older style of language irritating in some stories, but also because I found many (not all) of the older stories to be second-rate literature. Some of them seem amateurish and badly written, especially judging by modern standards and expectations. But, more importantly, I simply found many of them dull. I didn't persevere with reading a significant proportion of these older stories.

Maybe if I had known what to look for, then i could have picked out the best older stores (i.e. some of the classic stories mentioned by other reviewers) and I would have really enjoyed them. But I hadn't read any reviews when I first read the book, and reading the stories chronologically felt like an endurance test.

So, I skipped forwards a few decades in the book, to stories written in the mid-twentieth century onwards, and here the stories became very readable, fun, enjoyable and atmospheric. Some are surprisingly dark and even gloriously twisted! There are some lovely top-rate stories!

Overall, I found enough enjoyable stories to read in this book to make it good value at the very cheap price I paid for it (£2.76), but if I was buying again, I would get a book of 20th century ghost stories.

I've given the book 4 stars because I skipped so many stories, but there are a significant proportion of excellent stories. I'd give one-star to the first half of the book and five-stars to the last third. This rating isn't based on the literary merit for an anthology, but simply on my own personal enjoyment of the stories.

In the end, it's purely a matter of taste, and other reviewers have clearly enjoyed reading the older stories. But I do wonder if some of the reviewers simply skipped to the stories that they were familiar with, and didn't attempt to read the book chronically, in full, as I did.
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on 1 April 2015
Great reading , at price paid what's not to like
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on 11 March 2016
Good service - OK product
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on 27 January 2015
spooky
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