The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

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The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

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Category: Paranormal
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A portmanteau of spooky stories that too often set their stall up – then leave, spooking unfulfilled.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 9780857862426

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Typically atypical noises faced by someone alone in an empty house… a rock group reuniting at their old studios and finding there are more haunting traces of their passage than just their unremembered recordings… a nightmare for a round-the-world solo yachtsman when he gains a passenger… These could possibly count as entrants in any compendium of ghost stories. But what of their author, tasked to transfer reportage into readable non-fiction? Should he not know better about dabbling with the occult, in any shape or form? How long will it be before he finds himself staring at a ghost himself – one that has not confined itself to just the pages of the book he is currently writing, but has made itself known in volumes past?

Jeremy Dyson shares with me a wilful love of deconstructing the form of the book in this volume. Dressed as non-fiction, the blurb in obscure fragments or unusual places, he's not afraid to pretend to be reproducing other books at the same time as being his own, new self. There's even a page one about two thirds of the way through – heck, some of this is printed as white on black paper. I just wish he had devoted as much of his time in concentrating on the form of the ghost story.

What we have is more or less a compendium of ghost stories, and however diverse, interesting and interestingly presented they may be, there are too many that fail to work as well as they should. It seems as if Dyson wants his stories to be just the set-up of the ghost story, and has decided that anything that actually features a person engaging with the ghost is crossing into the different genre of horror. He is certainly adept at posing his tales in different ways, constructing them in different manners, and the ten featured here (take that as a very loose count, the number is designed to be debatable) have a great variety. But whether it is the noises at night, or a potentially phantom institution, or something connected to a strange collection of manuscripts, too often one gets the build-up, which is of course vital in a ghost story, only to see the ghost fully in all its glory at the climax – then it's on with the next one. One tale here has some people seeking a ghost of a kind, and we get to feel a little like them at times – ghosts are for relishing, not for building up to and ignoring.

At the book's best the separate tales are allowed to freewheel with a Gothic mentality, and it's clear the darker tales – the ones that might be said to cross into horror – are by far the more satisfying. The tale of a policeman investigating something horrific in the Burley moors of Yorkshire has a delicious inevitability about it. And as for the over-arching tale, the raison d'etre of the entire piece, that sees 'The Haunted Book' become 'This Book is Haunted' and then 'A Book of Hauntings' – only to be tormented by the one and the same ghostly content? Well, it has potential, yet again is underused.

This, then, despite the intelligent whimsy of its structure and formatting, is saddled with the heinous sin, not just of some quite poor proof-reading, but more importantly of leaving us with too little resolution. Ghosts are for life, not just for while the pages are open, and if they are allowed to live, yet we see too little of the consequences, then they will be forgotten. It's unfortunate that too many of the fascinating phantoms in these pages will die out that way.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

Dolly by Susan Hill is a better choice for this – or any other – Hallowe'en, as it bends the format by asking quite what is a ghost, yet still satisfies completely, plot-wise. A Pregnant Ghost and Other Sexual Hauntings by Colin Waters is well worth a perusal for true-to-life ghost reportage.

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Sean Neylon said:

Having searched over Christmas for some classic ghost stories on tv to no avail, I then heard Dyson advertising his new book on 6Music, and before the interview was over, I had ordered the book.

I am now a third of the way through this book, but have started seeking reassurance from various reviews as I've been left a little disappointed so far. You are right, the final 'revealing' in each story has not (so far) been given the time or contemplation that is needed. We are merely left with a feeling of 'is that it?' then propelled onto the next story before we notice that there is no real shudder or twist to each tale.

I will persist, maybe because the book looks great and feels lovely to hold, but I will no doubt seek a better compendium for my winter nights afterwards.