Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Haunted Library - Selected by Tanya Kirk

The day seems to be speeding past with absolutely no inclination to tackle any of the jobs that want doing kicking in whatsoever. That includes blogging, and if I found myself doing anything more productive or creative than feeling being glued to my chair whilst I look at Instagram and Twitter I'd let it slide. As it is there's really no excuse not to deal with at least one of the books stacked up in front of me.

They have a slightly accusatory air about them; they know they don't deserve to be neglected , especially 'The Haunted Library' that I've been reading intermittently since October. It's a British Library collection of classic ghost stories, the unifying theme being books and libraries, selected by Tanya Kirk. The back blurb tells me she was co-curator of the absolutely magnificent 'Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination' exhibition a couple of years ago. (It was tremendous).

This book is every bit as good as that provenance led me to hope. Curiously there are at least two stories where the readers of certain books end up strangled... One belongs in Margaret Irwin's 'The Book' which I found the most chillingly ghostly in the collection. Here the book of the title exercises a malign influence on its reader but also, and far more terrifyingly, on the other books it comes into contact with. It's influence spreads like a contagion across the shelves. It's a horrible thought.

Edith Wharton's 'Afterward' which opens the collection is haunting in a more straightforward way but has stuck with me, as has Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Apple Tree'. May Sinclair's 'The Nature of the Evidence' has a physical meeting with a ghost that put me in mind of Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting  of Hill House' (I wonder if Jackson had read Sinclair's story). In Sinclair's case the contact is rather more benign but it's still unsettling.

And then there's Algernon Blackwood's 'The Whisperers' where a hapless writer, looking for a distraction free spot, finds himself in a suitably empty room. Only it's not quite as empty as he thinks it is, it has recently been storing books, and they've left something behind!

There's also a Mary Webb story. Now I have plenty of Mary Webb's books, though I've never managed to read one of them, so this was at least a start. It's a shame that it appears to be a total contrast to the majority of her work, because this is a genuinely funny pastiche of a ghost story, and I'd very gladly read more if it was in the same light hearted vein.

It's because I liked 'The Haunted Library' so much that I took so long over reading it, rationing individual stories like the treats that they are. There's nothing in here that would keep me awake at night after reading, but plenty that's just enough to give an agreeable sort of a chill. Which is how I like my ghost stories. I really loved this book.


  1. Haunted books and libraries! Sounds right up my street. :) I can sympathise with the Margaret Irwin (the historical novelist?) story about the contagious book. If I ever really hate a book, I have to remove it immediately from the house. And when I was younger I read some M.R. James ghost stories with illustrations by Charles Keeping that scared me so much that at night I'd put the book in another room because I didn't dare sleep with it near me...

  2. I can't read Stephen King, he scares me to much to sleep. And I agree about books I really dislike having to go asap, and scary ones being in a different room. This collection is really good though, nothing too terrifying in it. Lost in a Pyramid, the collection of Mummy stories that BL published was fantastic as well, if I'd read it when I was twenty I would probably have pitched to do a PhD on Victorian mummy stories...