Thursday, 5 May 2011

Top 5... Ghost Stories

The ghost story has been around since the invention of the campfire.  Since children have woken in the night and asked; "what was that noise?".  The best ghost stories chill you to the bone.  These five paranormal novels provide numerous spooky moments, but there's also plenty of meat on their bones when it comes to characters and plot.

5. Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris
Effie Gray, an artist's young wife, is drawn into the devious plans of a Tarot-reading brothel keeper in this chilling, lustrous Victorian thriller.  Set against the backdrop of the thriving Romantic art movement, Harris's novel spins a tale of deceit and possession that mystifies and grips at the same time.

4. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Michael is saved from drowning by Rowan, an ambitious surgeon.  As an after-effect of his near-death experience, Michael develops psychometric abilities - he can touch an object or a person and experience visions of the past and future.  Rowan soon finds that Michael's powers are connected to her own search for her biological family, after she was adopted as an infant.  Together they discover that Rowan is a child of the Mayfair family, a New Orleans dynasty that also happen to have supernatural powers - powers that have been inherited by Rowan.  This is a hefty read, and at times the narrative can drag (an entire section of the novel is devoted to the generations of Mayfair witches), but the end result is worth it.  This is the first book in a trilogy, by the end of which your head will be spinning with the intricacies of Mayfair geneology and the Machiavellian plottings of the spirit Lasher.

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Taking place in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, Beloved follows Sethe, a mother and former slave who is haunted by the crimes she endured (and committed) in her past.  One day, a mysterious woman arrives at her house.  Much of the novel is spent trying to figure out exactly who she is: simply a stranger passing, or an avenger from the spirit world?  Read it and decide for yourself.

2. Bag Of Bones by Stephen King
Like many of King's novels, the protagonist in Bag of Bones is a New England-based writer.  When he loses his wife suddenly, he is paralysed by grief, and decides to go to their old lake house to mourn.  Once there, he becomes involved in a local power struggle, develops a fixation with the lake, and comes across numerous clues that his wife has not truly left him...

1. Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel went on to win the Booker Prize with her historical epic Wolf Hall.  This novel, by comparison, is less ambitious - but still gives the reader much food for thought.  The central figure in Beyond Black is Alison, a psychic medium by trade who tours the South of England with her manager Colette and spirit guide Morris.  Colette is a hard-hearted harridan, and Morris is just this side of pure evil.  Alison, by contrast, is a large and jovial soul (I kept thinking of Dawn French in the role), or at least, that is what appearances would suggest.  As the reader follows Alison on her seemingly endless stage show around the suburban dystopia of middle England, it becomes evident that she is running from her past, as well as trying to find her place in the world.  Beyond Black effortlessly blends the ethereal with the domestic and is both depressing and hilarious, as the best British fiction tends to be, with something to say about human beings, not just their ghostly counterparts.

1 comment:

  1. I love The Witching Hour and Bag of Bones, so I'll have to check out the other books on your list!