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Well written ghostlies, but creating mild goose-bumps rather than uncontrollable shivers

the-travelling-bagSusan Hill is always worth reading, and she does the ghostly brigade well, though I must confess to wishing for a little more of those factors which would have had me whimpering in slight fear, and turning on all the lights. She did this marvellously of course in The Woman In Black, knowing how to turn up the volume knob of terror slowly and inexorably.

This moderately long story collection comprises 4 tales of the ghostly, and whilst they are well done, the first two did not create any unease in me at all – possibly because the chosen constructions for both stories tended to minimise and undercut fear in the reader, because fear was not really there for the narrator.

The first story, The Travelling Bag is not the narrator’s own story, and so there is a distance from emotion, through the using of one person to tell another’s story. This makes it a ghost story told as entertainment, so I was not surprised to find no hairs rising on the back of my neck, though there might well be some vivid images which make certain readers feel a little whimpery and uneasy!

Boy Number 21 also has a device which turns the fearful volume knob down. The narrator is reminded of an event from his long ago childhood. This concerns the paranormal. At the time, others in his circle were a bit spooked, but he himself was not, so, really, the absence of the narrator’s fear didn’t stir mine

Degas: Intérieur

Degas: Intérieur

It was only the third, and really, the fourth story which made me get close to any kind of feeling spooked and a bit scared – and that, after all, is surely one of the reasons we like ghost stories (those of us that do)

The central characters in the last two are female, as indeed the possible spookers are. What makes it work is that the characters the reader is being encouraged to identify with are uneasy, and becoming increasingly so, as the story progresses, so we have mounting fear going on. In the third story, Alice Baker, the inexplicable spooky goings on take place in the mundane surroundings of the typing pool in an office block.

The last story, The Front Room, was the one which most satisfied my desire for being a bit scared, set in an unexceptional twenties suburban house, at a time pretty close to the present, as DVD players and TVs figure! What makes for a better fear factor is that everyone, bar the source, is in the end scared. And this includes small children, which somehow made the scary happenings more sinister and potent.

The Monkey's Paw - W.W. Jacobs - scariest ghostly ever, written in 1902

The Monkey’s Paw – W.W. Jacobs – scariest ghostly ever, written in 1902

Hill is an old-fashioned ghost story writer – which I like, in that she focuses most on the psychology of the person being ‘spooked’, not to mention, the psychology of the haunter, so that the journey is about increases in tension rather than the BANG! RATTLE! of a plethora of sudden shocks, clanking chains, groaning coffins and the like which are the territory of what I dismissively think of as ‘Pulpy’ Horror writers.

Though, personally, as stated I do rather like the scare factor of a good ghost story, so would have liked to be a little more terrified, this would be a good one for a reader wanting a milder, gentler shivering turn

Photo credit Ben Graville

        Photo credit Ben Graville

I bought this as a download, but the ‘real’ book by all accounts is a beautifully presented one, and it’s probably particularly well-marketed for a Christmas stocking filler

The Travelling Bag Amazon UK
The Travelling Bag Amazon USA