Review: Ghostly

Ghostly is pretty much what it says on the tin: a collection of Audrey Niffenegger’s favourite ghost stories.

Like any multi-author short story collection, it is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from the mildly interesting (Niffenegger’s own “Secret Life, with Cats”) to the nasty (Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Black Cat” – content note for animal cruelty) and the outright racist (Saki’s “Laura” – I’m at a loss how anyone thought this was appropriate to reprint). There’s a not-terrible Neil Gaiman story, “Click-Clack the Rattlebag”, and the only truly haunting story in the collection, Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”, in which an automated house slowly collapses in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.

Apart from a couple of outliers, it’s mostly…fine. I guess I’m not sure what the point of it is, though. About half of the stories date from the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, and are consequently a bit tame for a modern reader looking for horror thrills. Most of them are quite frequently anthologised: Poe, Bradbury, Gaiman, A.S. Byatt and M.R. James are hardly forgotten gems or lacking in name recognition. Niffenegger has little in the way of insightful commentary to add to these stories, and the collection doesn’t have a whole lot of coherency. Nor is she interested in interrogating the problematic elements of these stories, as the Saki example proves, as does the inclusion of a story by the always-irritatingly-misogynist P.G. Wodehouse. Like, I think if you are going to reprint stories that reflect problematic views from the last century, you should at least provide some context for them instead of just saying, “well, it was another time”?

The inevitable conclusion is that Ghostly is more or less a branding exercise: Niffenegger carving out a small niche as an Expert on Spookiness. I suppose if you’re interested in Niffenegger especially, and in thinking about what she has to say with her fiction, it could be worth reading; if not, though, it feels a little inessential.

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