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The Apparition Phase

by Will Maclean

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492444,191 (4.33)1
Reminiscent of the gothic suspense of Shirley Jackson and the ghost stories of MR James, The Apparition Phase is an atmospheric and stunning debut. SHORTLISTED FOR THE MCKITTERICK PRIZE 2021 'A delight for both the expert and the uninitiated, this creepy tale is a carapace of cosy nostalgia wrapped round a solid thread of dread ... A page turner that keeps you in dreaded suspense of what you are about to be shown ... A claustrophobic and entertaining read that left me breathless ... Horror for the connoisseur.' ALICE LOWE ___________________________________ Tim and Abi have always been different from their peers. Precociously bright, they spend their evenings in their parents' attic discussing the macabre and unexplained, zealously re-reading books on folklore, hauntings and the supernatural. In particular, they are obsessed with photographs of ghostly apparitions and the mix of terror and delight they provoke in their otherwise boring and safe childhoods. But when Tim and Abi decide to fake a photo of a ghost to frighten an unpopular school friend, they set in motion a deadly and terrifying chain of events that neither of them could have predicted, and are forced to confront the possibility that what began as a callous prank might well have taken on a malevolent life of its own. An unsettling literary ghost story set between a claustrophobic British suburban town and a menacing Suffolk manor, THE APPARITION PHASE is an unnerving novel, which, like all the best ghost stories, pushes us repeatedly over the line between rational explanation and inexplicable fear. It asks us to consider what might be lurking in the shadows, and questions what is real and what is simply a trick of the mind - and whether there's really a difference between the two. ___________________________________ 'Hallucinatory brilliance ... The Apparition Phase may be the perfect novel for our phantom present' GUARDIAN… (more)
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Growing up in a London suburb in the early 1970s, teenage twins Tim and Abi Smith are obsessed with the uncanny – not just ghosts but also “standing stones, witches, curses, the British countryside, the ancient Egyptians (with particular emphasis on their burial rites), the Vikings, voodoo, vampires, the mythical giant squid, real-life accounts of people being attacked (and, even better, devoured) by large wild animals, Dracula, Doctor Who, space exploration, the futuristic domed cities that people would one day live in on the ocean floor, pond life, medieval history, medieval weaponry, medieval siege warfare, eclipses, coral reefs, escapology, how to start fires, UFOs, card tricks…” They spend hours together in the attic, discussing the frightening and the macabre. Accordingly, when they decide to play a practical joke at school, their idea involves faking a ghost photograph, portraying “a creature of smoke, of cobwebs, of moonlight, made of insubstantial mist that faded as soon as it was perceived”. They show the resulting image to Janice Tupp, an unpopular student in their class and her reaction exceeds their wildest expectations. Visibly rattled, she faints. Then, on a visit to the attic where the photograph was created, not only does Janice not accept that she was taken in by a forgery, but in a frightening trance-like state, she ominously declares that the twins have “woken something up… ” And it certainly seems that the prank has triggered bad karma, because tragedy soon hits the Smith family.

Years later, still trying to come to terms with these traumatic events, Tim gets involved with a group of paranormal researchers who are investigating the purported haunting of a sprawling manor in the Suffolk countryside. You would have thought that Tim would have learnt from his earlier brush with the supernatural to give this sort of stuff a wide berth. Yet, he enthusiastically joins the experiment, partly, one suspects, because he is seduced by the glamour of the upper-class set to which his new friends belong. As séance follows séance, it soon becomes apparent that, once again, “something is woken up…”

Will Maclean is an established screenwriter and, whilst this is his debut novel, it is clearly the work of an assured and experienced author. The Apparition Phase grips you from the very first pages and never lets you go. The plot twists and turns, and the scarier passages are scary indeed. The work taps into what I feel is a current fad for 1970’s nostalgia, especially amongst the horror-loving community. (I’m thinking, for instance, of Dead Ink’s Eden Book Society project, whose books I have reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Much of the atmosphere of the novel is, in fact, provided by the historical cultural references to that decade, including the famed BBC TV productions which brought the uncanny to the mainstream.

The Apparition Phase sometimes feels like two books rolled into one. On the one hand it is a work of suburban horror, where the supernatural events almost pale in relation to the more mundane terrors of drug and alcohol addiction, derelict housing, bullying, vandalism and random violence. On the other hand, it also provides the familiar chills of traditional supernatural fiction, with more than a nod to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Tim provides the link between these two worlds, even though, admittedly, they sometimes sit uncomfortably together.

For me, The Apparition Phase is a resounding 5-star read. It might not be perfect: I feel that sometimes the plot is a tad too tidy, too revealing of its machinery. For instance, interesting and promising characters are unhesitatingly disposed of when they are no longer needed to further the story. And the ending, whilst certainly brilliantly addressing some open questions (and tantalisingly raising new ones), also comes across as rather “convenient”. Yet, despite these reservations, I found it a gut-wrenching, spinetingling roller coaster of a ghost novel. I’m no Janice Tupp and do not have any knack for prophecy. However, I will take the plunge and predict that The Apparition Phase will be nothing short of a horror sensation.

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2020/10/the-apparition-phase-by-will-maclean.... ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jan 1, 2022 |
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Reminiscent of the gothic suspense of Shirley Jackson and the ghost stories of MR James, The Apparition Phase is an atmospheric and stunning debut. SHORTLISTED FOR THE MCKITTERICK PRIZE 2021 'A delight for both the expert and the uninitiated, this creepy tale is a carapace of cosy nostalgia wrapped round a solid thread of dread ... A page turner that keeps you in dreaded suspense of what you are about to be shown ... A claustrophobic and entertaining read that left me breathless ... Horror for the connoisseur.' ALICE LOWE ___________________________________ Tim and Abi have always been different from their peers. Precociously bright, they spend their evenings in their parents' attic discussing the macabre and unexplained, zealously re-reading books on folklore, hauntings and the supernatural. In particular, they are obsessed with photographs of ghostly apparitions and the mix of terror and delight they provoke in their otherwise boring and safe childhoods. But when Tim and Abi decide to fake a photo of a ghost to frighten an unpopular school friend, they set in motion a deadly and terrifying chain of events that neither of them could have predicted, and are forced to confront the possibility that what began as a callous prank might well have taken on a malevolent life of its own. An unsettling literary ghost story set between a claustrophobic British suburban town and a menacing Suffolk manor, THE APPARITION PHASE is an unnerving novel, which, like all the best ghost stories, pushes us repeatedly over the line between rational explanation and inexplicable fear. It asks us to consider what might be lurking in the shadows, and questions what is real and what is simply a trick of the mind - and whether there's really a difference between the two. ___________________________________ 'Hallucinatory brilliance ... The Apparition Phase may be the perfect novel for our phantom present' GUARDIAN

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