Friday, November 2, 2012

Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James

Edited by Darryl Jones
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price/Format: £10.49, hardback.
Bought from: Amazon
ISBN 0199568847

In a previous review I discussed my feelings of the short story format, and my feelings have not changed, though for this collection it is a good thing.  I was quite happy for the stories to be short and to be able to take a break between them.

For our October book club book we decided to read something spooky for Halloween, and after much deliberation I suggested MR James, as one of the earliest writers of the genre, and because as a teenager he'd scared me silly.

I'm *ahem* older now, and a little desensitised to the genre, but there is still something spine tingling about this collection.  The writing is naturally dated, and overly concerned with class and British stiff-upper-lip and it's also rather formulaic.  It's obviously a case of MR James writing what he knew (libraries, old books and documents, abbeys etc etc) and much is laughable in this day and age.  But there's a creepiness that plays on the mind... things that move in the corner of your eye, strange voices, shadows... all those edge-of-consciousness things that unsettle you, and it actually works very well.

This edition is particularly packed full, not only of (I think) every short story he published, but also various writings from James on the nature of ghost stories.  Reading these he explains he only wanted to write the type of stories I have described above, the ones that linger in the subconscious and make the reader feel unsettled.  For him these were never meant to be gorefests or to frighten you half to death, they were only meant to generate that shivers-down-your-spine feeling.  And in my opinion he succeeds brilliantly.

I read a couple at night, and then resigned myself to only reading during the day.  I won't say which I have read as yet, and which I have not, or try to tell you what is good or not so good.  That's not for me to decide for you.  My advice for this collection is to smile and accept the settings and plot decisions for what they are, and just enjoy each story as it comes. 

If you like to be a little more creeped out try reading at night, or even by candlelight for the uber-spooky effect, as one of our book club members did.

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