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Archive for the ‘ef benson’ Category

In the Edwardian and late Victorian era there was a popular craze for mysticism. Mediums held seances for a fashionable clientele, and everyone was talking about Madame Blavatsky and mesmerism and auras and spirit rappings. So there was a huge market for mystical, undead-type literature, and you’d think that this would have resulted in unprecedented numbers of excellent ghost stories. Sadly, this wasn’t really the case.

I learned long ago in my ghost story reading career that a story that features any kind of parapsychological pseudoscience has a 90% chance of being sucky. The only non-awful ones I can think of right now are the Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories by William Hope Hodgson; some of those are quite decent. Not terribly memorable, but good creepy fun.

Stories about seances always end up being soppy, melodramatic and tedious. And stories that take a pseudoscientific approach to phenomena? It should stand to reason that when you try to give an occurence a scientific reason, it stops being scary. I mean, come on, if you write a story in which the main character discovers that ghosts are merely recordings being endlessly played back, you destroy any potential for mystery or menace. You’re just writing bad science fiction now.

What makes MR James so very very good is that you never really have any idea about what is going on on the other side. There is just a vague and horrible impression of an occult, malevolent world that sometimes touches ours. There is no attempt at explanation. There are strange powers prowling the world like ravenous lions; don’t interfere with them. Lock your doors and close your curtains at night and don’t read that curious manuscript. That’s all you need (or want) to know.

EF Benson and Algernon Blackwood, both legendary writers of excellent ghost stories, also wrote stories about spiritualism and parapsychology. Those stories were abysmal. If EF Benson and Algernon Blackwood can’t do it, it really oughtn’t to be attempted.

But this was supposed to be a review of Ann Mellor’s Lover. It’s about clarevoyance. This is going to be terribly anticlimactic; after all that I’ve said, I really ought to condemn it as irredeemable tripe,  but… it’s not that bad. It’s kinda silly, but it’s readable and held my interest. It’s about a guy who discovers a sketch of a girl, and immediately, through clarevoyance, realizes that he was linked to her in a past life; he then undertakes an investigation. It sucks as a ghost story, but as middlebrow short fiction, it’s passable.

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