BOOK REVIEW: AN ENGLISH GHOST STORY / AUTHOR: KIM NEWMAN / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The haunted house can be a difficult beast. At some point, we’re likely to shout at the page or screen, imploring characters to just leave the building. What solution could be simpler? In An English Ghost Story, author Kim Newman realises this and gives his characters good reason to stay, until it is too late.
Newman’s making a resurgence lately, with his Anno Dracula novels and other works being re-released with bonus short stories and author notes slipped between the covers. An English Ghost Story is a less hefty tome than the aforementioned works, weighing in at just over 300 pages. You won’t be stopping any doors with it, but be prepared to give it your time and full attention; once begun, it’s a story you won’t want to put down.
The Naremores are a typical family – parents, a teenage girl and a younger boy – who eschew city life and move into a house in the country, former residence of a children’s author. Yet, it soon becomes clear that they all wish to escape something more than the rat-race; however ‘typical’ this family may appear to be, each is gradually revealed to have their own psychological flaws.
Newman tells the story through all four of these characters, making them all hero or villain at some point, leading us through their thoughts and feelings with a deft hand. When the conflicts begin and the neuroses resurface, they’re not entirely unexpected, but the pace and the build-up ensure they still come as a shock. It’s these contradicting points of view and attitudes that give us the drama, making the book as much about how the family works and then starts to disintegrate as it is about the ghosts. Sometimes, there’s nothing scarier than people and what they’re prepared to do to each other.
That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its supernaturally chilling moments. It starts subtly – in one early scene, removal men comment on two children playing where there’s only one – and in this house, even objects themselves have a presence about them, acting just as they do in the ghost stories written by the woman who used to live there. It’s all done well, making the book unsettling rather that aiming for shock value.
Newman’s writing is deceptively gentle, making the reader feel comfortable – as if we’re being led by the hand rather than gripped by the story – which makes any surprises all the more unsettling. Perfectly paced and atmospheric, An English Ghost Story is a stunning book that will keep you reading, promising yourself one last page, only to find that Newman’s hooked you with his prose and characters, pulling you into a story that you can only surface from when the last word has been read.
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