Writers: Sarah Perry, Jeanette Winterson, Andrew Michael Hurley, Mark Haddon, Kamila Shamsie, Stuart Evers, Kate Clanchy, Max Porter edited by Rowan Routh
Publishing House: September Publishing
Publication Date: September 28th 2017
Rating: 5 stars
‘’There is melancholy in lights glimpsed from a distance’’, she said, ‘’A party to which one has not been invited.’’
When I am in the car and the night has fallen, I love gazing at the lit windows of the houses that pass over my eyes. Thankfully, I don’t drive, so I can enjoy the scenery to my heart’s content. Some windows shed too bright a light, most are dimly lit and soothing. I always wonder what kind of people live inside, what their stories might be. This is one of the times when we might feel like ghosts…Watching lives from a distance, a mirror….
The quote I chose was one of many beautiful moments in this collection. Eight of the most significant British writers of our time have written stories dedicated to their favourite English landmarks, simultaneously paying homage to the great heritage of the British Ghost stories.
Sarah Perry and Jeanette Winterson are only two of the writers that speak to us about spectres from the other side. And yet, is there an ‘’other side’’? The ghosts that haunt the ruins of buildings lost back in time are very much ‘’alive’’ in the world of the living. They haunt land and souls. They want to speak, to love, to punish.
The stories are as particular and unique as their creators. These aren’t ordinary, average writers and the tales included aren’t the common, run-of-the-mill, ghostly ‘’products’’. Some of them may even have you wondering why they’re actually called ‘’ghost’’ stories. There is no shocking factor here, no violent descriptions, no slasher-films gimmicks. These are tales that touch on perceptions, beliefs, feelings and memories.
The stories that stood out, in my opinion, were:
‘’They Flee From Me That Sometimes Did Me Seek’’ by Sarah Perry. Perry isn’t able to write an average text, even of she deliberately tried to. I think we have established this by now. Possibly the best new voice in the endless wealth that is British Literature, here she creates an exquisite tale that touches the thin line between the metaphysical and the absurd. The title, derived by Sir Thomas Wyatt’s beautiful poem, is the heart of the story but you’ll have to read it to understand it. One of the most attractive, elegant stories in the collection.
‘’The Bunker’’ by Mark Haddon. A weird, hallucinatory story, written in impeccably beautiful language.
‘’Foreboding’’ by Kamila Shamsie. A haunting story of finding yourself in a foreign country, realizing that ghosts aren’t the worst thing that can happen. A tale that talks about the pain of the refugees and the themes of family and death.
‘’Never Departed More’’ by Stuart Evers. One of the strangest stories in this collection. What starts as an unusual method of a troubled actress for a film based on Ophelia, becomes a journey through this world and the one beyond that is closer than we think. An -almost- psychological study, a tale steeped in madness and obsession.
‘’The Wall’’ by Kate Clanchy. A sad, yet hopeful story of a mother and a daughter who decide to deal with tragedy and rediscover themselves in the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall.
‘’As Strong As Death’’ by Jeanette Winterson. Possibly, the finest story in the collection. Well, small wonder since it’s Jeanette Winterson we’re talking about. A tale that centers on love, loss and acceptance, while taking glimpses in many pivotal moments in British history.
The Afterwards section is dedicated to a short analysis of the unique development of the British Ghost story tradition, referring to some of the most well-known spectres of the Old Albion. There is also a brief history of the landmarks that become the stage for these beautiful, absurd, haunting stories. Poetic texts, informative and a bit nostalgic for the presence of the past, inexplicable and fascinating.
To say that the writers of the stories stept on ‘’familiar’’ tropes or to claim that they ‘’played it safe’’ is more than simplistic. It’s sacrilege, permit me the use of the word. With Rowan Routh as the editor, eight gifted souls joined forces to create not mere ghost stories, but passages that touch the heart of the readers. They brought forth all that is good and inspiring and dignified in what we call ‘’Literature’’…