Top positive review
27 people found this helpful
Impressive and memorable
on 29 September 2010
Warning: this review contains spoilers.
It is difficult to categorise Oliver Onions as a ghost story writer. The subject matter of his stories is wide ranging. Some have a dreamlike quality and ambiguity (eg: 'Phantas' and 'Benlian'); some focus on historical events which leave an imprint on the present ('The Ascending Dream' and 'Dear Dryad'). Others deal with time slips '(The Rosewood Door') or possession by the spirit of someone from ancient times ('The Painted Face').
Onions style is poetical, though sometimes his language can be convoluted: "On the day after that she would be his wife, and they would come here to this house together, but in a sense closer and dearer than she could have expressed she felt that that other should have been her bridal, that no church had assisted at" (p198).
His stories take time to build; only in 'The Painted Face' did I feel that this approach didn't work - I found this story rambling and discursive. He is good at describing atmosphere and people: the sister and her three brothers in 'The Master of the House'; the moonlight illuminating the rooms in 'The Honey in the Wall''; a man looking back over the major events in his life whilst standing in a ruined church ('John Gladwin Says...').
I particularly enjoyed 'The Real People', a conflation of life and art, where real life characters imitate the fictional ones an author has created and 'The Rope in the Rafters' where a wounded soldier is both the haunter and the haunted.
Perhaps the most familiar story in the collection is 'The Cigarette Case' which was adapted for the Orson Welles short film 'Return to Glennascaul' with the setting transposed from France to Ireland. 'The Cigarette Case' starts off with a routine travelogue and then develops into something intriguing.
An impressively diverse collection of ghost stories.