Ghosts of Christmas Past – Review
By Karl Hornsey
There’s nothing quite like a good ghost story at Christmas – they just don’t seem to work for me at any other time of year – and this new anthology of 13 stories makes for an excellent stocking filler.
The introduction by Tim Martin is perfect, giving a potted history of the ghost story and informing the reader about the chosen authors, including those for whom this particular genre is something of a departure from their usual output. The idea to blend olden tales of yore with modern stories is excellent, leading to a great variety, but that’s not to say this collection is without fault.
First, the use of Neil Gaiman as the lead author on the front cover is somewhat disingenuous given that his ‘story’ covers only a page and half at just over a 100 words. While it’s a teasing lead into what promises to be a full-blown tale, it ultimately leaves you wanting more from such a talented author.
There’s also a lack of genuine fright and terror in most of the stories, several of them building nicely, but not really going anywhere, and to me the primary aim of ghost stories has to be send a chill down one’s spine. That happened only sporadically, although I did find that where one actually reads them (in front of a roaring fire/in the pub/in bed) can alter greatly how they affect your enjoyment.
The high points of this book came from unlikely sources. While I had high hopes for MR James, without whom any collection of ghostly tales would suffer, it was the short stories by E Nesbit, LP Hartley, Louis de Bernieres and Muriel Spark that left me engrossed.
None of these authors are in any way known for their work in this genre and maybe that’s why they were such a delight to read, but my fullest praise is reserved for The Step by EF Benson.
Benson’s most lasting work has been the Mapp and Lucia series of books, but a little delving into his back catalogue reveals him to be a master of the Gothic horror story and this one was by far the most chilling of this anthology.
The Step is set in Alexandria and tells of a callous British money-lender who becomes aware of footsteps following him home from his club each evening. I wouldn’t dream of revealing any more than that, but if only this collection had gone for full-on horror rather than diverting tales of intrigue, I would be recommending it even more than I am.
‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ edited by Tim Martin is published by John Murray, £8.99 paperback