Review: An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman

An English Ghost Story coverSome ghost stories lean on heightened fears through reader anticipation of the dark unknown while others simply rely on the restrained apprehension of a quaint mystery as clues are slowly dispensed. In the soon (October 7, 2014) to be released An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman from Titan Books, we have a little bit of everything.

The Naremores are the archetypical dysfunctional English family. Steven and his wife Kirsty drag their two kids Jordan and Tim along as they search for a new home. After many showings, they are taken to a charming estate called The Hollow. Dating back to the Middle-Ages and even containing some of the furnishings from its long line of previous and storied occupants, the Naremore family all magically agree that this is the home for them. It doesn’t take long for the ghostly charm to turn wicked.

At first, the story has the amiable feel of a Scooby-Doo type adventure because the family is almost predictable in their reactions to their surroundings. But when the reader is introduced to one of the previous occupants through a children’s book, it becomes obvious that the apparitions are not something created by Ol’ Man Jenkins to scare off those meddling kids. This is when the ghost story comes to life.

Newman uses an interesting technique for providing backstory and clues to the mystery. In addition to the verbal references from townspeople and local historians, the reader is provided with stories within the story. The last owner of the house was Louise Magellan Teazle, an author of popular children’s books. One such story was titled, “Weezie and the Gloomy Ghost.” The reader is shown this story as a separate publication within the story and gives authentication to the overall novel. The story also provides many insights to the premise of the rest of the novel.

The most compelling element of a good ghost story is believability, and Newman provides this the entire journey. The back cover of the book refers to the Naremores as “a dysfunctional British nuclear family” looking to straighten out their lives by moving out of the big city. This description reflects a good portion of the population and can be identifiable by many others. By putting the reader in a familiar mind set, it is much easier for the unbelievable to become acceptable.

I won’t get into specifics for fear of revealing too many spoilers, after all, this is just as much a mystery as it is a ghost story. But I will assure you that the suspense is skillfully character driven with just enough chills to keep Horror reader’s interest.

There is a lot more to Horror than just blood and gore.  As welcomed as the macabre may be to some readers, it is not a necessary element for many fans of the genre. Sometimes, an apparition or a good ghostly story is just enough. And in An English Ghost Story, Kim Newman brings the ghosts to life.

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