By Kim Newman
Published by Titan Books
'A dysfunctional British nuclear family seek a new life away from the big city in the sleepy Somerset countryside. At first their new home, The Hollow, seems to embrace them, creating a rare peace and harmony within the family. But when the house turns on them, it seems to know just how to hurt them the most – threatening to destroy them from the inside out.'
I sometimes wonder how the age-old Haunted House story can be given a new lease of life, how it can be reinvented with new and exciting twists. It’s been done so many times in different formats, with differing levels of creepiness and darkness and, if the mood calls for it, violence. Dark rooms, badly-lit staircases, shadows on the walls and basements you simply don’t venture into just because you heard a noise… yes, the Haunted House story has been done many times and may even be a little trite.
So, I came to Kim Newman’s An English Ghost Story with a little cynicism; another haunted house? I’m not sure about this. You can’t get me with jump scares as it’s not a movie, and I’ve read enough ghost stories to have some kind of idea of what’s to come.
Newman doesn’t really go down that route with this book. Oh, there’s levels of creepiness in the story that got my back up but the underlying mystery is incredibly compelling. A nice touch, and it’s something that gives the story depth and the house itself personality, is the inclusion of a story by the house’s previous occupant, a children’s book author. This story really is the central key that makes the story work… but I can’t go into any more detail. This really is a mystery that you’ll have to read with no prior knowledge to appreciate.
The family in question, the Naremores, are the primary characters in all this and they’re a great family to read about. They gripe and snipe like any normal family and the mother/father/daughter/son combination gives every reader a character to latch on to and share the story with. This means that the characters drive the plot and that also means that the suspense is heightened because you come to care about the family and their fate. There are chills, and these chills are what you’d expect from a ghost story and that expectancy makes them feel a little predictable, but the investment you have in the characters and the unfolding, and very intriguing, mystery makes those chills much more prominent.
Kim Newman hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this book but he has given us a sharp, enjoyable story with an excellent mystery and some enjoyable, identifiable characters that you come to feel for which only helps to heighten the tension.
An English Ghost Story is a great book and, while it doesn’t break any new ground as far as spooky stories are concerned, it makes for an excellent, suspenseful read.