Sunday, 14 June 2009

For the Hours After Midnight



Sarah Waters, whose own ghost/haunted house story I reviewed here, wrote about her favourite ghost stories on her website. I found the list and insight into the writer's own literary loves fascinating. Of the top ten I had read half when I first read the list but have now read eight of the ten; the short stories I found online (I would provide links but I downloaded them in pdf format and no longer have them) and have still to read Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (as previously mentioned) and Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills (I have never read any Ishiguro).

Of the ten my favourites are photgraphed above.

Beloved was my first Toni Morrison novel almost a decade ago and the one she is most known for, seeing as it won the Pulitzer Prize and was likely the contributing factor to the author winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, the first time a black woman had ever won it. I loved that Sarah Waters included it on a list of ghost stories; it is intensely haunting and does include a haunted house, 124 Bluestone, and its own "little stranger", the ghost of murdered infant, Beloved (so named for the inscription on her headstone). It is also haunted by the sins of the past and I love Waters' eloquent description, " [o]ne of the great fictional studies of slavery and its scars, Beloved is also a sublime literary ghost story: a meditation on the ways in which individuals and communities – ultimately, an entire nation – can be haunted by the violence and injustice of the past. A breathtaking book." It is indeed breathtaking -you gasp in shock often- and somebody or something's breath is perhaps the sensation you feel on the back of your neck.
Beloved is the type of terrifying story that the short story "The Lottery" is, more disturbing and sickeningly shocking than sensational terror.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is also a haunting novella of another kind, a psychological and claustophobic study of mental illness. A spare and essential feminist text, I have read and reread "The Yellow Wallpaper" often. I have the beautiful slim volume (Virago Modern Classic) above as well as a couple of anthologised copies but you are able to read this on Project Gutenberg. Follow it up with Persephone's The Victorian Chaise-longue, which is similarly themed with a trapped and stifled woman.

My impressions of The Woman in Black have recently -and enthusiastically- been given. The building of palpable tension in this short novel still resonates with me.

Coincidentally I paired "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu and "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (both novellas) in a Victorian Literature essay many years ago. The latter lauded the former with the praise that he was "the ideal reading ... for the hours after midnight" and indeed Le Fanu's Vampiric tale, which predates Bram Stoker's Dracula, is deliciously atmospheric. As a prototype for lesbian vampires, as well as female, it is also probably of historical as well as literary interest to Sarah Waters. "The Turn of the Screw" is the original rational v. supernatural tale and at the forefront of the genre.

Of the short stories, "The Monkey's Paw" was the most sensational and one I had never come across mention of before (nor the others). Its "be careful what you wish for" motif is blended into a theme reminiscent of The Arabian Nights, a monkey's paw talisman that will grant you three wishes - no matter the cost. Its climax is chilling and emphasises that what is unseen and left to the reader's imagination is frequently effective.

Elizabeth Bowen is a favourite writer of Sarah Waters and one of the few female writers of War-time fiction. "The Demon Lover" is subtly creepy.

Kelly Link's "The Specialist's Hat" bears re-reading as I haven't fully formed an opinion. It is quite poignant but I didn't find it particularly scary.

As I seem to be on a mission to scare the bejesus out of myself, do you have personal favourites in the genre of ghost stories and the general disturbing that you would like to recommend?

10 comments:

claire said...

Beloved is indeed the perfect ghost story. Hm.. setting aside Stephen King titles (lol), one ghost story that's made a huge impression on me is Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits.

farmlanebooks said...

That is a great list. I have only read Beloved, but plan to read a few more. Perhaps I should try reading the entire list too!

FleurFisher said...

What a great list! You must try Ishiguro - just not The Unconsoled. I love his other books but I found The Unconsoled completely unintelligible. Ghost story writers? Edith Wharton and Daphne Du Maurier are the first names that come into my head. But why not give one of the Virago ghost story anthologies a try?!

Karen said...

I am not a bit ghost story reader - I found Beloved absolutely terrifying - but I did really enjoy Affinty by Sarah Waters.

Dot said...

I've heard that The Haunting of Hill House is really good, I keep meaning to get hold of a copy!

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I went through a huge Stephen King phase as a teenager and some of his books still haunt me. There aren't many people who can do fear like he can.
I enjoyed The House of the Spirits too (I also went through an Isabel Allende phase but haven't read any of her books for years).

Jackie, you should try reading it! Especially The Yellow Wallpaper; it's quite short (30-40 pages).

Fleurfisher, thanks! I definitely intend to read Ishiguro; I'm pretty sure I have a copy of Never Let Me Go at home in Glasgow.
One of the Virago anthologies is definitely an idea! I have only read a few of Edith Wharton's more famous works (and Ethan Frome, which I think is lesser known).
Although Rebecca is my favourite novel I haven't read any other Daphne Du Mauriers, even though they are Viragos! I've been recently wanting to read The Parasites though.

Karen, Affinity is a great read! Deliciously sensational.

Dot, I keep hearing more and more about it and look forward to reading it.

Samantha said...

I read Beloved about ten years ago too and it has just been picked by one of book clubs and I am so glad as I have been meaning to reread it :-)

Paperback Reader said...

Samantha, I'm glad you are managing a reread! It is such an amazing book.

Nymeth said...

Thank you for pointing out that "The Yellow Wallpaper" is available on Gutenberg! I've been dying to read it since you recommended it. I read Carmilla many years ago - I don't remember much other than I loved the atmosphere, and was left with the desire to read a retelling that gave Carmilla a voice.

Though I love ghost stories, I'm not sure what to recommend because I rarely find them scary. It's mostly the atmosphere that draws me in. I read M.R. James' stories last year and I fell in love. And I see that someone mentioned the Virago anthologies - I have The Virago Book of Ghost Stories edited by Richard Dalby and it's excellent!

Paperback Reader said...

Let me know once you've read The Yellow Wallpaper! I'm excited.

I definitely need to look out for the Virago collection.