Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Haunted House – Sort of Dickens

I had a plan to do some sort of round up of 2010 reading with my top ten books (you know the sort of thing) but time is getting away from me and as it’s always possible I’ll read a book so damn good that it couldn’t reasonably be left off any half ways decent list in what’s left of the year... Well it’ll wait until the New Year. (Which is the catch all phrase covering every part of my life for the next 3 days.)

For some reason unknown, but most definitely exacerbated by a ‘career’ in retail I don’t really like Christmas very much, I should perk up about in time for the Dr Who special, will enjoy boxing day (hopefully mostly from bed with a pile of books), grit my teeth through a further few days at work (both bank holiday days thank you very much) until finally fingers crossed I will get on a train on New Year’s eve that will reunite me with the Scottish one in Scotland where we plan to spend quality time by the aga or by the fire. Leisure activities will basically revolve around whisky and books. Sadly it will be an all too brief break from the everyday but I’m really, really, looking forward to it.

Meanwhile in-between trying to keep warm and trying to stay sane (that would be Christmas in retail again) I’ve been trying to get into the spirit of the season through mince pies and a flirtation with Dickens. The mince pies have been great, the Dickens a little more mixed – he’s one of my literary blind spots (don’t dislike what I’ve read, never seem to muster the enthusiasm for more) but I’m not prepared to give up just yet so thought short stories might be the answer.

Hesperus have bought out collections ‘conducted’ by Dickens from Household Words (I’m guessing as they mostly have a Christmas theme that they come out around this time of year). I’ve had ‘The Haunted House’ for years but never paid much attention to it until I got a copy of ‘The Holly Tree Inn’ back in November. I like short stories generally and have been loving all things Victorian recently so here I am one (and a half) collections later wondering if I’ve been converted to the Dickens side or not yet.

‘The Haunted House’ is a little bit wintery and doesn’t have much supernatural activity but does have contributions by Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. It also has a long (to me very dull) poem by Adelaide Anne Procter which I had to force myself to finish, it was a touch too Victorian even for my taste. Otherwise this collection scores on all points. Humour, romance, adventure, just a touch of horror – all present, correct, and splendid reading for dark cold bus journeys. I’m also quite pleased to say that I really enjoyed the Dickens contributions; the way he sets the scene and expounds on the problems of keeping servants in a haunted house is just joyful.


  1. I enjoy these Hesperus collections too, Hayley. I read a couple of them just before Christmas. The quality is variable depending on the contributors but there's always enough I enjoy to make it worthwhile.

  2. I saw that Lyn, it must be serendipity that we were reading the same books at the same time. The quality is patchy but like you say there seems to be enough good stuff to make it worthwhile, and I do like short books.