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The Haunted Library

My second book for Bev's Mount TBR 2017 is The Haunted Library, edited by Tanya Kirk.





This British Library collection of ghost stories comprises a dozen tales by a few authors that were very familiar to me and quite a few that were not, which is always nice. All concern books, libraries or bookshops in one fashion or another.

The first story in the volume, Afterward by Edith Wharton, an author whose books I've read several of, was one I thought I ought to have read before but couldn't remember. It involves an American couple who move to a secluded house in Dorset after selling a mine in America. The wife feels something isn't right after a man is seen walking up the drive... her husband goes to meet him but then gets rather shifty when asked about the episode. The writing, as always with Edith Wharton, was superb but the story didn't really convince me somehow. It felt contrived but was still enjoyable for the setting.

A well known tale by M.R. James, The Tractate Middoth, follows that, concerning a man looking for a book in an Oxford library and why he has to find it before a certain relative. Beautifully written but, for me, not one of James' best. Bone to Bone by E.G. Swain concerns a man who hears noises in his private library at night, goes to investigate and finds a book is sending him messages about going into the garden. A fun story. The Whisperers by Algernon Blackwood tells of a man who sleeps in the attic of a friend's shed, amongst his books, and hears voices in the night. An ok story but it seems I don't like this author's stories as much as I thought I did.

I liked Fingers of a Hand by H.D. Everett very much. Two maiden aunts are looking after neices and nephews and take them for a holiday in a cottage by the sea. Suddenly they're getting written messages all over the place telling them they must leave the cottage immediately. Nicely written and spooky. I thought it was based on a certain real life incident on the south coast but the one I'm thinking about happened well after the story was written, so it can't have been.

The Nature of the Evidence by May Sinclair is about a man whose beautful wife dies. Before she pops her clogs she tells him he can marry again but if it's the wrong woman she'll make it known, after her death, that she disapproves. Naturally she does. I thought this one was a bit ridiculous to be honest.

Mr. Tallent's Ghost by Mary Webb concerns a publisher haunted by a writer he didn't publish because the work was so bad, and The Lost Tragedy Denis Mackail is about a lost play by a famous playwright. Both of these were a bit so-so. The Book by Margaret Irwin was quite good, telling the story of a man who notices that there's always a gap on the second shelf of his bookcase, whether a book's been taken out or not. He finds a strange book then that has a malevolent affect on him and his family and starts telling him to do things. This was a good, atmospheric, tale.

I thought The Apple Tree by Elizabeth Bowen was one of the best stories in the book. Simon Wing, a middle-aged bachelor, suddenly marries a nineteen year old girl. Friends are worried and this is nicely put over by the use of a house party and two observers, Mrs. Bettersley and 'Lancelot' who discuss the problem as the story progresses. The new wife is strange, mixed up in some peculiar tragedy while she was still at school. Mrs. Bettersley is actually afraid of her... Very nicely written, creepy and full of atmosphere.

Herodes Redivivus by A.N.L. Munby was also very good. A man is invited by a friend to go to his flat one night to look at his books. The man discovers that his physician friend owns the very copy of a book that frightened him as fifteen year old boy. He had been wandering in Bristol and found an antiquarian bookshop down an alley. The bookshop owner was weird and offputting but sucked the boy in by showing him his private collection of books. This was a definitely a weird tale, nicely told.

The last story in this volume is The Work of Evil by William Croft Dickinson. The Keeper of Printed Books at a library is back after a long illness. He decides to show one of his employees the Special Collection which until now he's kept locked away and barred access to all. Why is he doing this now? Is there an ulterior motive? Interesting and creepy.

This was an enjoyable collection of ghost stories. Like all short story collections there are standout stories and ones that don't work so well. I also thought that sometimes the book connection was a bit tenuous, ie. books weren't necessarily the focal point, there just happened to be a library somewhere in the story. To be honest I didn't mind because even if the story did not work that well for me it was always well written and worth reading for the setting or the atmosphere or something.

Comments

That's the thing that often puts me off collections. The stories can be a real mixed batch, very good stories mixed in with some not so good. That's especially true with horror, which needs a certain touch to carry off. So, thanks for the review. I think this is one book I'll pass by.
especially true with horror, which needs a certain touch to carry off.

You're so right and it's so hard to tell why one story works for you and another doesn't. Also, I think my tolerance for 'far-fetched' has got less as I've aged. I'm far more likely to think something is ridiculous now than I used to be. I'm also more affected by good and bad writing than I used to be. I can forgive a story a few faults now if the writing is very good.
Yeah, I'm the same way. I don't know if it's age, or that I write. Either way, it does take more to impress me when it comes to writing, whether pro or fan fiction.
I think us being writers does have an effect but also I think the more you read - and we do read an awful lot - the more you learn and the more you can tell good writing from bad. I was telling my husband yesterday about two male crime writers I started to read last year whose writing is superb. And it made me think that it's not that long ago I would have been talking only about great plots, not excellent writing. Life is odd.
Anthologies do tend to vary in quality and interest. Although I may have read other stories collected in The Haunted Library at one time or another, the only one I remember is the Edith Wharton story, Afterward. It struck me a bit differently from your reaction. There was enough doubt and ambiguity to give me the creeps. The story insinuates that supernatural forces were at work, but human means could definitely have caused what occurred, and it's the doubt that would drive me crazy in the narrating character's circumstances.
That's the nature of anthologies, I totally agree and really... I quite like that about them. And always that chance that you might discover a real gem or an author you'd like to read more of.

I was pleased that this one had more obscure authors than I had seen anywhere else. It almost felt like Edith Wharton, M.R. James & Algernon Blackwood didn't belong in it as they were too famous. LOL

I liked that your take on the Edith Wharton was different to mine. I really *must* read more of her novels. Think I've read three and own The Age of Innocence which I really must get to.