Thursday, October 29, 2015

Variations on a Theme: Spooky

Who doesn't love a good ghost story? I'm not a huge fan of the horror genre or things that go bump in the night, but ghost stories are different. This month's Variations on a Theme features books where a character may just be a ghost.


The Woman in Black
Susan Hill

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens

Scrooge was a foul old man who wrapped his cold, uncaring heart in chains. Chains of greed. Bigotry. Contempt. Apathy. Selfishness. He detested the world, and was alone. Until the night his long-dead partner Marley appeared. A hideous spectre forced to walk the earth forever, Marley was damned. As Scrooge would be...unless he agrees to face three ghosts. One would take Scrooge back to the memories he'd buried. One would show Scrooge the world of joy and friendship he'd rejected. One would force Scrooge into the dreadful shadow of the future he'd forged. Three ghosts of Christmas. Of Christmas Past. Of Christmas Present. Of Christmas Yet to Come. All offering Scrooge a single gift—a chance. A last chance to give love. A last chance to join life.


The Turn of the Screw
Henry James

The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.

The Haunting of Hill House

Shirley Jackson

Eleanor Vance has always been a loner--shy, vulnerable, and bitterly resentful of the 11 years she lost while nursing her dying mother. "She had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words." Eleanor has always sensed that one day something big would happen, and one day it does. She receives an unusual invitation from Dr. John Montague, a man fascinated by "supernatural manifestations." He organizes a ghost watch, inviting people who have been touched by otherworldly events. A paranormal incident from Eleanor's childhood qualifies her to be a part of Montague's bizarre study--along with headstrong Theodora, his assistant, and Luke, a well-to-do aristocrat. They meet at Hill House--a notorious estate in New England. Hill House is a foreboding structure of towers, buttresses, Gothic spires, gargoyles, strange angles, and rooms within rooms--a place "without kindness, never meant to be lived in...." Although Eleanor's initial reaction is to flee, the house has a mesmerizing effect, and she begins to feel a strange kind of bliss that entices her to stay. Eleanor is a magnet for the supernatural--she hears deathly wails, feels terrible chills, and sees ghostly apparitions. Once again she feels isolated and alone--neither Theo nor Luke attract so much eerie company. But the physical horror of Hill House is always subtle; more disturbing is the emotional torment Eleanor endures.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman

In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place—he's the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians' time as well as their ghostly teachings—such as the ability to Fade so mere mortals cannot see him. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are being such as ghouls that aren't really one thing or the other.

The Little Stranger

Sarah Waters

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.


More Ghost Stories
The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen - Katherine Howe
Blood and Salt - Kim Liggett
Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories - Audrey Niffenegger
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill
In a Glass Darkly - Sheridan Le Fanu
The Restorer - Amanda Stevens
Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories - Roald Dahl
This House is Haunted - John Boyne
Through the Woods - Emily Carroll
The Unburied - Charles Palliser
 

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