Archive for the ‘Very good’ Category

This is a tale that might be told in many ways and from various points of view; it has to be gathered from here and there – a letter, a report, a diary, a casual reference. In its day the thing was more than a passing wonder, and it left a mark of abiding horror on the neighbourhood.

So begins Scoured Silk; an auspicious first paragraph if there ever was one. This is a horror story rather than a ghost story. Nothing in the least bit supernatural happens. But that’s fine, so long as it’s creepy.

It’s about a bachelor living in an old house in London. He moved there from the country with his young wife but she died soon after. 20 years later, he became engaged to a young lady, and the story begins 2 weeks before the wedding. The young bride-to-be is happy enough until she begins to notice the strange attitude her betrothed has toward his dead wife. I’m not going to say any more, because this is a fun, creepy story and deserves to be read. Bowen gets so much right here; the pacing is excellent, and you’re kept guessing right up to the denouement.




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The Crown Derby Plate starts off cozily, with three elderly women sitting before the fire in the drawing room of the country house where they are spending Christmas. The conversation turns, as is its wont, to ghosts.
This story is unusual in that it is women who are telling stories; traditionally it’s the men, lingering over port, who bring out the old school tales or the curious thing that happened to Wigglesworth out in Rhodesia. When women tell ghost stories (in ghost stories), it is more typically in the form of written correspondence.
(As an aside, I deeply appreciated the word “ungetatable” on page 36.)
The atmosphere is very well done in this story; Bowen knows how to set a haunting, desolate scene, and contrast it sharply with a cozy hearth. The setting (but not the plot) is very reminiscent of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.
In The Crown Derby Plate, an antique collector visiting friends hears about an old woman in the neighborhood who lives in a large, run-down, rumored haunted house who has a large collection of china. Hoping to complete her set of Crown Derby, the collector pays a visit to the house.
A few pages into this story, I realized that I had read it before, anthologized somewhere–and no wonder. It is solidly and absolutely a ghost story, and a very good one at that. After The Fair Hair of Ambrosine, I was afraid that the rest of Bowen’s stories would be vaguely supernatural thrillers, but this is an unsettling story of ghostly horror in the tradition of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu.

Spoilers after the jump

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