Psychological Ghost Stories
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Hi fellow Thingamabrians,
Once more I like to draw on our collective wisdom; this time the topic is: Ghost Stories...
Last night I finished Ghost Story by Peter Straub. Why I haven't read this book before (since it has been lurking on my shelves for some years now) is beyond my imagination. It was absolutely fantastic!
What I really liked about Ghost Story was the little town-setting and the slow, but steady, building of suspense that you also find in some of Ramsey Campbell's better novels. Actually I often find "quiet horror" or "psychological ghost stories" more thrilling than novels that are filled with scenes of explicit violence. There is something really scary about the... things... that operates on the very far borders of sanity...
Anyway, reading Ghost Story really put me in the mood for more stories like that. Naturally, Julia - also by Peter Straub - is on the way to my mailbox and I have The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons and The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams ready on my nightstand.
Does anybody have more suggestions and/or thoughts about this particular subgenre of the horror literature?
I've mentioned it on a number of threads now but the book that has come closest to creeping me out in a long time is Michelle Paver's Dark Matter. I completely agree with you about the quiet, 'creeping' kind of horror being the best and I'm looking forward to seeing what other suggestions you get here.
I discovered this on my livejournal and thought it would be of interest to people on this thread.
Too obvious probably, but what about Heny James' The Turn of the Screw?
Oh and congrats on 'discovering' Ghost Story. I loved that book!
It was patterend on 'Salem's Lot, so if by some miracle you haven't read that one already, you may like it (though it is in no way a psychological ghost story). Both share the detailed small town setting.
Straub also wrote a similar novel called Floating Dragon that takes everything about Ghost Story to excess. In the end it may be too much, but I liked it anyway.
#7: James, Ghost Story was a fantastic read! Naturally, I'm looking forward to Julia as well. In fact I guess this year will be a Peter Straub year for me, reading-wise.
Yeah, I really enjoyed those small interludes in Ghost Story in which the everyday lives (and deaths) of the inhabitants of Milburn where summarized. Very similar to parts of the narrative in Salem's Lot. Also, I noticed the influence by The Turn of The Screw in the story Sears James was telling at a Chowder Society meeting.
#2+3: Dark Matter and The Rainy Season both looks interesting, thank you for the recommendations.
I thought Dark Matter was kind of weak, but I love the Hellfire Club.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a very subtle ghost story. Creepy, but it takes its time and there are other things going on. Not exceptionally exciting things, but I liked it anyway.
Also you could try The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons. It's a lot more exciting, but still not very overt. It's dated, but well done.
The Uninvited by Dorothy McCardle is a bit creaky, but in the genre. Not as spooky as some, but it has moments.
Loved Ghost Story. Of all Straub's books, it's by far the best. Love Dark Matter too. Great handling of her story. But the one that beats them all is the one I just put down and want to pick up again. And again. Even though I know the end, I want to relish Houdini Heart's tricks and nuances and style. Hell, I just want to be in River House again.
You might try Phil Rickman. He does quiet horror very well. The Merrily Watkins series is more like supernatural mystery, but his stand-alone novels are straight creeping horror. If you like the small-town feel, you would probably especially like Curfew. I think it's the same book as "Crybbe," but one is the US title and one is the UK title.
Deja vu, I just posted about Ghost Story a few minutes ago, somewhere else! I was writing about how oppressive all that snow on the town felt to me as a reader. That detail added to the trapped feeling the novel inspired. It was very creepy. I LOVED Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. Citizenjoyce, I'm curious as to why you didn't? I promise I'm not inviting you to a debate. I'm just curious to hear another perspective. I also liked Affinity.
Perhaps it's immature of me, but I thought it was a cop out the way she left everything up in the air. In her other books she winds a tale this way and that and shows how things work out reasonably. In The Little Stranger she leaves it up to us to figure out what is really going on. She's the author, it's her world, but she seems to have it both ways. All the "evidence" points to a ghost, but we know there's no such thing as ghosts, so what's the deal? It's kind of an authors version of having her cake and eating it too, in my opinion.
This is my first post. I would recommend the novels of F. G. Cottam for ghost stories.
18 It's just that very ambiguity that I like about the book. It follows a long literary tradition that includes the likes of Henry James (The Turn of the Screw comes immediately to mind). Most of life comes with little in the way of definite answers to the really big questions; I hate stories that tie everything up in a neat little package with no loose ends.
we know there's no such thing as ghosts
Do we????? :)
20 - yes, so a book that posits their existence as an explanation of occurrences would seem to me to need something to back up that idea or show other alternatives. I like ambiguity, but I don't think the presence of ghosts can be ambiguous. At least that's my reason for disliking the book. I guess some people are more ambivalent about hauntings and other paranormal occurrences, there are certainly TV programs devoted to such folk.
I guess you're entitled to your opinion.
I know of several people who felt the same way -- and then were totally fazed when they actually encountered something apparently paranormal. At least, if I ever see a ghost, it won't substantially alter my world-view that there are more things in heaven and on earth than science, at its current state of knowledge, can fully explain.
ETA to add
I guess I'm not sure I understand why someone who absolutely doesn't believe in ghosts would want to read a ghost story in the first place. Kind of like a vegan reading The Meat Lover's Cookbook. ;) No, I take that back. I read fantasy/horror stuff that goes outside the bounds of what I consider possible within my belief system -- I just suspend belief and enjoy the story. But ambiguity doesn't bother me there -- since real life is full of it, fantasy may as well be, too.
Woman in Black sounds like a good read. I want to see the movie. There's a review of it on the NYT, one of their media sites goes through a dissection of a scene and the director talks about the methods he used to achieve the creepiness. Very interesting. I love the dissection of those things.
The Uninvited was a good movie. I'm not quite sure I correctly interpretated the ending, though.
CitizenJoyce - really interested in your remarks concerning The Little Stranger, and ghosts in particular. Does that mean you don't enjoy ghost stories at all, or does there have to be some solution to the haunting, so it's not really a haunting? Or if there IS haunting, what would be an adaquate explanation? Or is it enough that the protagonists merely discuss what is going on, or even test for it, as in some stories (often written in the seventies) where paranormalists run around with electrical equipment and looking for ectoplasm (I'm being sarcastic - I find these themes rather dated, but fun all the same). As naimahaviland said, I'm not looking for a 'heated debate' as such, but genuinely curious.
My own personal view is that ghosts don't exist, but it's a shame and I'd love some evidence to the contary. Doesn't stop me enjoying what tymfos pointed out as The Turn of the Screw-type tale - in fact, that's probably my favourite type of scary story. The ambiguity is very creepy indeed, and even to rationalise it away as hysteria to the point of seeing things, well that type of madness strikes me as horrifying anyway. I don't think of those stories as not wrapping everything up for the reader; more that they are not wrapping everything up for the protagonist. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, or are not prepared to suspend belief for the sake of the story, you are left to wonder about the state of mind of the protagonist, which is very creepy.
Ooops, forgot to add - welcome to discussion, bjbookman. Have heard good things about F. G. Cottam a few times in this group.
you are left to wonder about the state of mind of the protagonist, which is very creepy.
I often think that the "demons" lurking in the disturbed human mind can be the scariest of all "hauntings."
I also don't want a heated discussion. It's funny that this is a bit seeming so. I do like the occasional ghost story. I love the TV shows Being Human and what was that older one in which the girl ended up being killed by a toilet seat? Being Dead? something like that. I'm currently reading The Vampire Tapestry even though I don't believe that vampires exist. I find the part of the book, Unicorn Tapestry in which the vampire is treated by a psychologist who doesn't believe in vampires very interesting. I loved Sarah Waters Affinity, a more realistic "ghost" story, and maybe that's why I didn't like The Little Stranger. I'm used to a kind of Sarah Waters style that includes both lesbians and rational explanations for weird occurrences. In Stranger the main female character keeps putting off her marriage to the doctor. Is that because she's, perhaps even unknown to herself, homosexual, or is it because a part of her thinks he's using her to get her house, or is it because of ghosts? I can deal with those ambiguities. They make the story more interesting. But the matter of the ghost just seems like a cop out to me. Waters does her usual rational kind of reporting and ends by showing no way things could have happened except to have been done by a ghost. She seems to be covering all her bases in a too Romneyesque way to me. Would I have liked the same book if I hadn't knows she was the author? Hm, I don't know.
That's interesting, how our expectations of a particular author can color our perceptions of a book. I'd not read Waters before, so went into it perhaps with fewer expectations regarding what I'd find. But I know there are times I've been disappointed in a book primarily because I expected something better(?) different(?) from that particular writer.
Citizenjoyce - no, didn't seem like it was getting heated but I've had a few experiences on LT where I've offended when not over-explaining my motives before putting forward a point a view.
So I guess what you're saying - without spoilers - is that it wasn't so much the ambiguity, but the fact that in The Little Stranger it really could have been too many things, to the point where a genuine haunting was the least of her problems? That makes sense. In The Turn of the Screw, James never really rationalises anything and is very vague throughout, with layers of ambiguity building tension, so leaving the reader hanging doesn't feel like a cop-out at all. His story is a mood-piece all the way.
Like the difference between the films The Innocents and The Others I suppose. In the first, either ghosts or hysteria are causing the woman to lose her mind, so the ambiguity is justified, where in the second, the woman is trying to rationalise events and finding clues to the mystery along the way, so an explanation at the end (whether natural or supernatural) is more fitting.
Never heard of The Vampire Tapestry before. Sounds like my kind of read, I will definitely look out for it in the future. And what can I say, haven't heard of Being Dead either, but being killed by a toilet seat... :D
tymfos - completely agree about the disturbed mind.
I just looked it up, the show is Dead Like Me, very satirical. The girl becomes a reaper, and the lovely Mandy Patinkin played the head reaper. I miss it. It was great.
Dead Like Me only lasted two seasons. There is also a movie using the characters from the Tv shows. Only thing that was disappointing about the movie was Maddy Patinkin wasn't in it. I think this series was on Showtime. It really was a excellent show.
Had a quick look on Google and nothing about it looks familiar - one that passed me by completely...
#34 And I'm reading The Mist in the Mirror; it must be Susan Hill week.
I'm a big fan of the "Creepy things that seem real but aren't" series on Crushable.
Here are some, if anyone is interested:
I suggest "The hands Resist Him".
The series is badly named though. It should be "Creepy things that don't seem real, but are" since like half of the stories are either true (in theory) or it's unknown whether they are or not. True or not though, it's enough to keep you up at night.
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