Tuesday, November 1, 2022

The Little Blue Flames and Other Uncanny Tales - A. M. Burrage

Until 'The Little Blue Flames' I'd more or less managed to resist this particular hardback series from the British Library - yes, I have 'Fearsome Faries: Haunting tales of the Fae' but that was a one-off. Was. A colleague from work actually messaged me an image of 'The Little Blue Flames' when it came in she thought it was so much up my street. I'd already requested it by then.

I can't resist a good ghost story collection and having occasionally come across A. M. Burrage in other anthologies I knew this collection was something I wanted. It has more than lived up to my expectations being just the sort of uncanny I relish. My preference is for things that make the ordinary feel unsafe rather than full on gory horror. The title story where a pair of brass candlesticks give their owner a vision of a past crime perfectly fits that bill. 

It's not hard to at least half believe in the possibility of the ghosts and hauntings that Burrage conjures, where half the work is being done by the imagination of his protagonists. Why shouldn't much-loved ornaments carry some memory of a previous owner about with them? When you hold something old and worn in your hands it's so very easy to imagine those who have held it before - and half the work of the ghost story is suddenly done. 

The same kind of thing happens in 'Smee' where a house party is playing a version of hide and seek when they start to feel there are more people in the game than there should be. Nothing awful happens apart from the narrator being forced to realise not everything can be quite explained, and all the implications for life and the afterlife that brings with it. 

There's nothing in this collection that's kept me awake at night, but plenty that's made me grateful for being able to draw the curtains against the dark, and pull the duvet up close. All of them remind me of a bedroom in the house I grew up in. It was a perfectly ordinary spare bedroom in an old house. It wasn't much used and had a faded kind of look about it. It also terrified me from as far back as I can remember. I hated to walk past it when the door was open, which it often was, and would avoid going in it if I could. I still sometimes dream about that open doorway with the same sense of discomfort, and if I'd ever had to sleep in there I would have scared myself silly (and probably still would) for no obvious reason at all. 

 That's the experience that Burrage speaks to - the superstitious, irrational reactions to things that we can laugh about, but can't quite laugh off. 

The next book in the series is Celtic Weird edited by Johnny Mains and it too looks great. 

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