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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Obscure Horrors

I thought I might save this post for Halloween, but then again, Halloween is a season for carnivalesque safe scares; you pays your money, enter the ghost-train ride and emerge on the other side unscathed. The ride is easily forgotten and the memory is disposable, whereas a great horror story errrrmm...haunts you.

Alison Flood's article article in The Guardian set me thinking about horror/supernatural fiction. Readers cite the usual horror suspects (King, Poe, Shirley Jackson...) but I remember as a reader that my literary scares came from reading short stories in old anthologies borrowed from libraries or unearthed in clearance book sales. I discovered new names and old names; wonderful tales by one-hit wonders and stories by writers that you'd normally would not associate with horror/ supernatural fiction.

It wouldn't be useful to name some of these old anthologies because some are long out of print, but links to more available editions  are included where possible.


1)  "Not Exactly Ghosts"  Andrew Caldecott (Wordsworth Editions 2007)
Sir Andrew Caldecott is better known as a diplomat and ex-governor of Hong Kong and Singapore. His administrative legacy endures (Mediacorp, the home of Singapore Broadcasting, resides on Caldecott Hill) but his literary legacy is criminally underrated. Buy this if you want subtle early 20th-Century ghost stories, where mundane objects like a pump, a pair of trousers and a church organ are haunted .

2)"The Party" "The Partnership" William F. Nolan
What? Horror from one of the writers of "Logan's Run"? I had to struggle to put the 1976 movie out of my head, Nolan writes superb dark psychological tales and "The Party" was as chosen by Newsweek as one of the top ten most effective horror stories. "The Partnership" is an unsettling sample of American Gothic that was adapted for the anthology TV series "Darkroom" in 1980. Now I want a copy of "Logan's Run" because the book is much grittier and deserves better, before Hollywood got its mitts on it for the movie.

3)"Video Nasty" Phillip Pullman (1996). Published in "The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories" edited by Peter Haining (Mammoth Books 2007)

Yes, dear reader you read the name correctly as him of "Northern Lights" fame . Just like its title, "Video Nasty" is an unmercifully visceral short ghost story that raises more troubling questions than answers. Parallels between 'The Ring' are merely coincidental (it was written 3 years before the Japanese film version hit mainstream Western audiences)

4) The Machine Stops E.M Forster
A dystopian science-fiction story by one of the foremost critics of science-fiction. This is not a horror story but I urge you not to shudder at Forster's vision of future humans reduced to fungoid growths by their slavish dependence on technology.

5) The Lamp Agatha Christie(1933). Published in"The Hound of Death and other stories"  (Harper Collins Ltd)
The Queen of Crime also reigns supreme as a ghost story writer . Poignant and eerie, "The Lamp" has a unique atmosphere that does not disperse, even when you have switched on all the lights.

6) All But Empty Graham Greene
A murder is connected to an afternoon matinee attended by only two people. Invariably, there is a twist ending but *what* a twist it is.

7) Close Behind Him John Wyndham
In his famous novels such as 'The Day of the Triffids' and 'The Midwich Cuckoos', Wyndham created his own genre of 'logical fantasy' and he applies the same precise structuring and prose to this story of murder avenged.

8) The Ball Room China Mieville "Looking For Jake and Other Stories" (Pan, 2006)
Can China Mieville's prose hack it in a real-world setting? It does and you almost wish he wrote more contemporary fiction. You will never dare go near a children's play area after reading this.

9) The Dancing Partner Jerome K. Jerome
The author of the classic comic novel "Three Men In a Boat" displays a rarely-seen warped sense of humour in this tale of a toy dancing-partner that *never* wants to stop dancing.

10) The Signalman Charles Dickens
Incisive social commentary of Victorian England? Check. Effortless lucid prose from a master writer? Check. Eccentric ghosts a la "A Christmas Carol"? Absent. A disturbing ending that ensures sleeping with all the lights on? Present.

Other suggestions/ additions to this list? Comment below thank you




4 comments:

Medeia Sharif said...

The Hunger and Other Stories by Charles Beaumont is my favorite horror collection.

meg said...

I love graham greene. His short stories are some of my favorite. Another favorite it Patricia Highsmith's stories.

Lydia Kang said...

Ooh nice list. You should repost this around Halloween anyway!

William F. said...

Thanks for mentioning me! - http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/williamfnolan?ref=ts

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