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Ghost Stories: Selected and Introduced by Mark Gatiss (Vintage Classics)

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Sherlock star Mark Gatiss selects and introduces chilling tales by the unsung master of the classic ghost story - E.F. Benson. There's nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy Tube platform. There's nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don't be frightened of the dark corne Sherlock star Mark Gatiss selects and introduces chilling tales by the unsung master of the classic ghost story - E.F. Benson. There's nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy Tube platform. There's nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don't be frightened of the dark corners of your room. Don't be alarmed by a sudden, inexplicable chill. There's no need for a ticking clock, a limping footstep, or a knock at the door to start you trembling. There's nothing to be scared of. Nothing at all.


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Sherlock star Mark Gatiss selects and introduces chilling tales by the unsung master of the classic ghost story - E.F. Benson. There's nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy Tube platform. There's nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don't be frightened of the dark corne Sherlock star Mark Gatiss selects and introduces chilling tales by the unsung master of the classic ghost story - E.F. Benson. There's nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy Tube platform. There's nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don't be frightened of the dark corners of your room. Don't be alarmed by a sudden, inexplicable chill. There's no need for a ticking clock, a limping footstep, or a knock at the door to start you trembling. There's nothing to be scared of. Nothing at all.

30 review for Ghost Stories: Selected and Introduced by Mark Gatiss (Vintage Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Decided to treat myself to a ghost story (or two!) a night from this little collection, as I love reading them on the run up to Christmas. They are introduced by one of my favourite actors and writers, Mark Gatiss. He assures that “Fred” (E.F.) Benson’s particular approach to ghost stories will much appeal to lovers of the genre. Myself being a huge M.R. James fan, I just knew there would be some tales in the collection that I would enjoy and appreciate the writing style of. My thoughts on each t Decided to treat myself to a ghost story (or two!) a night from this little collection, as I love reading them on the run up to Christmas. They are introduced by one of my favourite actors and writers, Mark Gatiss. He assures that “Fred” (E.F.) Benson’s particular approach to ghost stories will much appeal to lovers of the genre. Myself being a huge M.R. James fan, I just knew there would be some tales in the collection that I would enjoy and appreciate the writing style of. My thoughts on each tale in the collection are as follows: ”Spinach” This very much pokes fun and makes digs at fake spiritualism. But perhaps needed slightly more suspense. It is about two siblings Ludovic and Sylvia Byron who are invited by a widow named Mrs Sapson to use her cottage near Rye for their spiritualist, mediumship work. They hope to photograph a spirit there. Quickly upon arrival, they are contracted by a young, recently departed spirit - Thomas Spinach. Spinach had murdered his uncle by way of poisoning before his own death. He had gone to dig a grave for the corpse, only to be struck by lightning and was killed himself. His spirit is plagued by the fact he never buried his uncle’s corpse and cannot rec aww all the whereabouts of the remains. The story overall is quite humorous. It plays on the pair seeming to both believe they have these psychical abilities, and also have some scepticism and know it to all be untrue. It ends with the corpse being located quite quickly and I think this is where the lack of suspense I mentioned earlier is most prevalent. ”In The Tube” Our narrator pays a visit to a gentlemen called Anthony Carling. He is the last remaining guest after a dinner party. Anthony appears to be a fan of having deep, philosophical conversations about time and space; the story opens with one of his monologues about those type of subjects. He then proceeds to tell a story about a man he saw sat opposite him on the tube, and how he had premonitions of this stranger’s future. This starts with him being introduced to the man a day later in a different setting, but the man claiming to have never been on the tube the previous evening. He then foresees the man’s apparent suicide, but the question is - will he try to prevent it or not? This is where it takes a slightly darker turn... ”The Man Who Went Too Far” This story’s opening paragraphs almost feel like something from a fairytale, describing a quaint woodland and village setting. There is a house at the end of the village, and this is home to Frank; an artist who is isolating there. He is expecting a visitor, his old friend Darcy. When Darcy arrives he is amazed. Frank looks so much younger than he expects to him. He exclaims ”you are a boy again!” As the story plays out, it darkens from that initial, whimsical tone. It mostly consists of long winded pieces of dialogue from Frank, and I could imagine this being acted out on stage as a series of monologues, and with Frank jumping around the stage in expressive madness. ”Mrs Amworth” A rather good vampire story. The narrator’s neighbour Francis Urcombe has an interest in all things occult, paranormal and supernatural. He doesn’t want to rule them out as complete fiction, and in the case of Mrs Amworth it is a good job that he doesn’t. It is quite predictable overall and ends exactly how you’d expect, but the character of Mrs Amworth is a good take on a female vampire, as she just poses as a normal, respectable member of her community rather than a temptress luring everyone to their doom. ”The Room In The Tower” This one is all about dreams, and how the contents of dreams can one day play out in real life. The Room In The Tower is the setting for where this dream (or perhaps ghoulish nightmare) will play out and the story slowly, meticulously, creeps towards that conclusion. ”The Bus-Conductor” This, like the previous story is a dream/preemption type story. The narrator and his friend Hugh Grainger return from a few days away in the country. The narrator is nervous thinking perhaps they were visited by a ghost of some description, although the weather was awful the entire time they were away so it was impossible for them to fully know. Hugh, however, is much more calm because he claims to have seen spirits before. Hugh is plagued by visions of a horse-drawn hearse and the phrase “Just room for one inside, sir”... is this just simply a trick of the mind, or is it a premonition of the future? ”Negotium Perambulans” The small fishing village of Polearn is seemingly isolated from the rest the world, being 2 miles away from any other town or village down a treacherous, stony gradient. The narrator had lived their as a boy with his aunt and uncle, his uncle being the town’s vicar and the narrator remembers a sermon he gave about of one of the carved panels of the church’s alter-rails. It depicts a robed priest stood in the entry to the churchyard holding up a cross whilst he faced a giant slug-like creature. His uncle claimed the slug to be an evil entity and could only be defeated by having ”firm faith and a good heart”. The legend is from the ninety-first psalm: ”Negotium perambulans in tenberis” ”the pestilence that walketh in darkness” The narrator is told, by some other boys who live in the village, about an ancient church that used to be in Polearn and this is where the panel originated from. The owner of the quarry beneath was discovered as a lifeless husk of skin and bones after meddling with the alter. Returning to Polearn as an adult to visit his Aunty, and he quickly falls back into believing the superstitions of the place after listening to his Aunt’s tales of what has happened since he left. A man he knew as a boy called John Evans now lives in the quarry house where the owner was found deceased. He finds that John, an avid artist, has been painting all things dark and evil. Will he suffer the same fate as the previous owner? ”And No Bird Sings” This opens on a glorious spring day, as the narrator is making his way to a house in the woods, surrounded by meadows. As soon as they enter the woodland, the sunlight is completely obscured by the trees. There also is a horrible smell, the narrator states the smell of something that is alive but completely repugnant and odorous. He soon arrives at the home of Hugh Granger (close in name by one missing “i” in the surname to another EF Benson character) and his wife Daisy. The narrator remarks on the lack of birdsong in the woods, as his finds that rather strange. It becomes apparent that none of them have ever seen a bird, or any other animal such as a rabbit for that matter, in the woods. Apart from feeling the presence of something larger and more ominous. The men both explore the woods and Hugh is convinced of a slug-like “elemental” dwelling in there (yes a remarkably similar creature as described in the last story). He believes it had drained the blood from the rabbits due to puncture wounds found on their lifeless bodies. They both return to the house to fetch guns and set out into the darkness once more to hunt this creature and hopefully make the woods more habitable... ”Caterpillars” A creepy, very short (just over 10 pages) end to this collection, Caterpillars is set in an Italian Villa. It is home to the Narrator and one day he finds his bed infested with these grotesque caterpillars like nothing on Earth. He is unsure whether it is a dream or he is awake. Overall, I give this story collection 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fiona MacDonald

    Atmospheric and chilling, these short stories are NOT a good thing to read last thing at night. What makes them so wonderful is the settings - how can a tube be scary, a caterpillar or a friendly new member of a village? But they all are, and you'd better beware. E.F Benson belongs, along with M.R James to a long gone family of truly terrifying ghost authors. They deserve to be cherished and adored for their utter perfection. Atmospheric and chilling, these short stories are NOT a good thing to read last thing at night. What makes them so wonderful is the settings - how can a tube be scary, a caterpillar or a friendly new member of a village? But they all are, and you'd better beware. E.F Benson belongs, along with M.R James to a long gone family of truly terrifying ghost authors. They deserve to be cherished and adored for their utter perfection.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    Many of these stories have similar features: ponderous beginnings – through which you must slog to get to the good stuff – and sudden endings, cutting them short just as they've become interesting. One of them actually ends in the middle of a sentence. 'The Room in the Tower', 'Mrs Amworth' and 'The Man Who Went Too Far' are worth seeking out; the rest, sadly, feel like filler. It seems this is often the way with collections of ghost stories by authors who wrote them but weren't best known for t Many of these stories have similar features: ponderous beginnings – through which you must slog to get to the good stuff – and sudden endings, cutting them short just as they've become interesting. One of them actually ends in the middle of a sentence. 'The Room in the Tower', 'Mrs Amworth' and 'The Man Who Went Too Far' are worth seeking out; the rest, sadly, feel like filler. It seems this is often the way with collections of ghost stories by authors who wrote them but weren't best known for them (see also E. Nesbit's Horror Stories). Spinach A brother and sister work as mediums, each claiming to have the power to channel a spirit guide. When one of their best clients encourages them to holiday in her seaside cottage, they head off, only to find that the previous tenant is still very much there... in spirit. This doesn't go the way you might think – the siblings really do seem to be able to channel ghosts, and their communication with this one is successful, though it leads to a macabre discovery. I liked the depiction of these characters, and the dialogue is sharply observed and amusing, but the story doesn't have a proper ending. As an opening to the collection, I enjoyed 'Spinach', but it adjusted my expectations: rather than fully-formed ghost stories, I assumed the rest of the collection would be made up of similar witty scenes. In the Tube A more traditional ghost story, using the familiar 'storytelling' framing device: a first-person narrator hears a spooky tale from an acquaintance. The acquaintance has been haunted by visions of a man, both before and after his demise by suicide. Again, the story ends abruptly. Contrary to my aforementioned expectations, it isn't especially witty, and doesn't seem likely to stick in my memory for long. The Man Who Went Too Far A lovely atmosphere in this, with description that really captures the beguiling magic of its rural setting. Two old friends meet after several years' separation, but Darcy is alarmed and intrigued to see that Frank has the appearance of a man fifteen years younger. His explanation is that he has adopted a way of life that brings him closer to nature, ridding himself of all pain and suffering (or proximity to it). However, it's not hard to guess from the title how this is going to pan out. In the end, the story seems to read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of eschewing Christianity. Mrs Amworth A very enjoyable vampire story set in an otherwise sleepy, picturesque village. It doesn't exactly offer a new take on the genre but, even so, I'd probably say this is my favourite of the collection so far. (The above reviews were written separately as part of a review-in-progress, each one completed after I finished the story. At this point, however, I got a bit fed up and resolved to finish the rest off in one go. I also remembered why I don't usually do this: because it ends up taking me a month to read a sub-200-page book.) The other five stories are a similarly uneven bunch. The best of the lot is 'The Room in the Tower', in which a man finds a recurring dream appearing to come true, and is menaced by a diabolical painting; it's by far the most successful at conjuring up a genuine sense of dread and terror. The story that follows it, 'The Bus-Conductor', is both unremarkable and far too similar to 'In the Tube'. There are two stories about gigantic evil slugs (!), which makes this sound like a MUCH more exciting book than it is. And the last one is about poor put-upon caterpillars taking revenge on a couple of obnoxious caterpillar-taunting fops. At least that's how I read it. TinyLetter | Linktree

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    Classic Fred As a confirmed Bensonite of long standing (yes, that's a thing, and, yes, we call him Fred), I recently succumbed to the lure of Audible. Oh, how I had resisted. For years. Such fortitude! Really, I deserve some kind of medal. But then, I developed a 'tarsome' (Benson adjectival in-joke, there) eye problem. I'm sure you don't want to hear about it, as there is nothing more tarsome than a middle-aged woman discussing her health. Oh, if you insist, then. A rather intrusive floater in Classic Fred As a confirmed Bensonite of long standing (yes, that's a thing, and, yes, we call him Fred), I recently succumbed to the lure of Audible. Oh, how I had resisted. For years. Such fortitude! Really, I deserve some kind of medal. But then, I developed a 'tarsome' (Benson adjectival in-joke, there) eye problem. I'm sure you don't want to hear about it, as there is nothing more tarsome than a middle-aged woman discussing her health. Oh, if you insist, then. A rather intrusive floater in my left eye. The one that had cataract surgery five years ago. It positively swirls all about the page whenever I try to read anything. Ghastly. Where was I? Oh, yes.... my review! I've read all these stories before. Multiple times, in fact. Although most Bensonites, me included, come to worship at the altar of Fred after reading his incomparable Mapp and Lucia series, what I found eventually was that it is his "spook stories" (his term) that really get me going. ( "Obviously," you are probably thinking. I forgive you, cara. Bensonite term of endearment there... really, you must read the Mapp and Lucia books and learn the lingo.) But then this floater thing had me feeling quite sorry for myself as I had such piles of intriguing books beckoning, but it was getting harder and harder to concentrate what with that intrusive black THING gliding around all over the page. (Actually, hmmm, that's rather spooky in and of itself, isn't it?) Happily, I seem to retain things I hear even better than things I read, so I spend many contented hours puttering in the kitchen or garden listening to audiobooks. But I had, in fact, gone through most of the audiobooks of interest to me through the public library. And this is how I justified the Audible account. And how, upon entering that magic realm, I straightaway locked onto this book as the first target. Mark Gatiss and Fred! A match made in heaven! Now, I have to confess that Gatiss' choice of stories would not be my personal choice. No, truth be told, he seems to favor the ones I think of as being more "Lovecraftian" in the sense that there is more an element of horror than spookiness per se. In several of these tales there are monsters, slimy, writhing, unspeakable things, often combined with corruption of the soul. But I should clarify that Benson does not, thankfully, exhibit Lovecraft's penchant for interminable description, esoteric myth creation, awkward style, racism, ... and, oh, well, you can see that I am not a Lovecraft fan, I guess? Benson's style is, quite simply, a thing of beauty. I would love to hear Gatiss read two of my favorite Benson ghost stories (and these are proper ghosts, not slimy horrors), "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" and "Pirates." Or perhaps an even better choice would be Derek Jacobi, who is, let's face it, a kindlier presence, as those two particular stories are almost heartbreaking in their tenderness. Yes...Jacobi. But let's be clear. I thought Gatiss did a perfectly splendid job with this set of stories. And, now that I think of it, he was the perfect reader for such a literally creepy tale as "Caterpillars" (long one of my favorites) or the dark, foreboding "The Room in the Tower." My! I have goose bumps just thinking of "The Room in the Tower." Read it (if you must). But even better, listen to it. For the very best ghost stories really are meant to be performed. And this, cara, is a performance .

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Mills

    Some terrific stories in this slimline collection - "The Man Who Went Too Far" will ring (frightening) bells for anyone who has read Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan", and the creeping, slimy things in "Negotium Perambulans" and "And No Bird Sings" echo the viscous horrors of HP Lovecraft. "The Room in the Tower" - with its repeated line, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower" - explores what can happen when a recurring nightmare starts to come true. Like MR Jame Some terrific stories in this slimline collection - "The Man Who Went Too Far" will ring (frightening) bells for anyone who has read Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan", and the creeping, slimy things in "Negotium Perambulans" and "And No Bird Sings" echo the viscous horrors of HP Lovecraft. "The Room in the Tower" - with its repeated line, "Jack will show you your room: I have given you the room in the tower" - explores what can happen when a recurring nightmare starts to come true. Like MR James, Benson delves into the weirder side of the British psyche, and unearths some curious, and terrifying, things, but adds a certain strangeness all his own (and is arguably a writer of greater depth and complexity). "Fear," reckons one of his protagonists, "is the most absorbing and luxurious of emotions. One forgets all else when one is afraid." These are some of the most frightening ghost stories I have ever read. Highly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I did not bother reading the last two stories because it was just terrible

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Naylor

    Edward Frederic Benson was a terrific writer. In many senses of the word. He was a pioneer in horror writing and created many of the ideas that are still prevalent in literature as well as film today. Having made that introduction, why am I only giving this 2 stars? It is mislabeled. The stories are all horror but not even half of them are ghost stories. The quality of the stories would probably have given this a 4 star reviews under a different title. The author definitely should be read more. Edward Frederic Benson was a terrific writer. In many senses of the word. He was a pioneer in horror writing and created many of the ideas that are still prevalent in literature as well as film today. Having made that introduction, why am I only giving this 2 stars? It is mislabeled. The stories are all horror but not even half of them are ghost stories. The quality of the stories would probably have given this a 4 star reviews under a different title. The author definitely should be read more. He had ideas ahead of his time. This collection just isn't one of ghost stories.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Great, classic ghost stories but spoiled for me because I read Mark Gatiss's introduction with its smirking references to Benson's gayness. It just seemed out of place as an essay about a collection of stories that didn't deal with sex or relationships. Great, classic ghost stories but spoiled for me because I read Mark Gatiss's introduction with its smirking references to Benson's gayness. It just seemed out of place as an essay about a collection of stories that didn't deal with sex or relationships.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alice-Elizabeth (Prolific Reader Alice)

    When I read ghost stories or any form of a spooky story, I really would like to be scared out of my wits however not too terrified out. It's complicated I know XD With this collection, I found mostly all of the included short stories to not be scary at all. I feel that a few of them didn't really come across as horror either. If you are new to this genre, this may be a good starting point. For those who have read a lot of horror, skip reading this one! When I read ghost stories or any form of a spooky story, I really would like to be scared out of my wits however not too terrified out. It's complicated I know XD With this collection, I found mostly all of the included short stories to not be scary at all. I feel that a few of them didn't really come across as horror either. If you are new to this genre, this may be a good starting point. For those who have read a lot of horror, skip reading this one!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vilde H

    Not enough ghosts

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    This collection provides a wonderful showcase for the depth and breadth of E.F. Benson's ghostly tales. These slow-burn, cerebral stories were perfect reading as autumn turned to winter. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Mark Gatiss! This collection provides a wonderful showcase for the depth and breadth of E.F. Benson's ghostly tales. These slow-burn, cerebral stories were perfect reading as autumn turned to winter. I highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Mark Gatiss!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marcus Wilson

    A decent collection of ghost stories from the author of Mapp and Lucia. They differ in quality making for a hit or miss affair, but the writers wit and eccentricity shine through enough to make it an enjoyable collection. Benson is no M R James, but his ghost stories aren't too bad at all. A decent collection of ghost stories from the author of Mapp and Lucia. They differ in quality making for a hit or miss affair, but the writers wit and eccentricity shine through enough to make it an enjoyable collection. Benson is no M R James, but his ghost stories aren't too bad at all.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    A collection of nine short stories that varied in quality, but overall an enjoyable read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom Hurst

    Supernatural occurrences of various kinds take place in the civilised, early 20th century British world conjured up in these stories of ghosts, vampires, premonitions and slithering things. I found the first story, Spinach, particularly enjoyable, as it has an amusing comic tone. I listened to the audio version read by Mark Gatiss. These stories clearly appeal to his horror-connoisseur tastes, and he gives an entertaining performance which complements the tone of the stories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peaches

    It's like Lovecraft, only better, scarier, and less racist ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It's like Lovecraft, only better, scarier, and less racist ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  16. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne (winterscribbler) Cole

    I don't think spoilers for once... but take care anyway When I first came across this book I was surprised to discover an author of ghost stories that I had not, so far, encountered. The introduction included some comparisons with M.R.James, but I would characterise the writing of E.F.Benson as the next step on from James in the evolution of the ghost story. James work is so evocation of the 19th century whereas Benson is firmly grounded in the early 20th. James’ stuffy academics are starting to I don't think spoilers for once... but take care anyway When I first came across this book I was surprised to discover an author of ghost stories that I had not, so far, encountered. The introduction included some comparisons with M.R.James, but I would characterise the writing of E.F.Benson as the next step on from James in the evolution of the ghost story. James work is so evocation of the 19th century whereas Benson is firmly grounded in the early 20th. James’ stuffy academics are starting to be replaced by professionals, the protagonists are younger, and there are a greater number of female characters. While the stories share themes, and sometimes characters, each tale in this collection has a strong individual identity, a central image that is quickly called to mind. Most of these stories contain a large element of fun, and of self awareness, in particular ‘Spinach’, which I read almost entirely as a parody on the psychic medium trope. I almost want to characterise these tales as Goosebumps for grown ups. Beneath the silliness there is a real aspect of fear. I wondered also if just as the ghost story itself began its transition into modernity, so too did the reader of ghost stories. I found Benson’s writing to be pitched more towards an audience of growing scepticism, a readership who are founded in logic and reason, and maybe hold no actual belief in a spiritual realm but are none the less drawn to discussion of it. These tales illicit an acknowledgement from a reader of the enjoyment of indulging in a ghost story for the sheer thrill of it, that we enjoy being afraid, even if our scepticism will not actually allow us to believe in that which we fear. This understanding of his audience is personified by the ghost hunting narrator in ‘The Bus Conductor’. A recurring motif throughout the stories in the collection is a discussion between characters about the validity of the belief in the supernatural. A few observations on particular stories: ‘Spinach’- I found this such a funny story, a send up of clairvoyance and all the tropes that accompany it. I liked that Sylvia was more aware than Ludovic of their apparent limitations. Ludovic, if honest with himself, knows he’s a fraud but not an entirely malicious one. I felt he was mainly enamoured with the idea of being special, and possessing a gift that made others regard him wit a sense of awe. I also loved the idea of a spirit being haunted by a physical body, and of psychics being called on for help by a sympathetic murderer. ‘In the Tube’- I loved the concept of this story, the ghost of a living man appearing for someone and enacting stages of their imminent death. It reminded me greatly of Dickens’ ‘The Signalman with a pleasing twist. I also like how it captured perfectly the sense of uneasiness we experience when confronted by the emptiness of a usually bustling environment, that nagging fear we all have of missing the last train. ‘The Room in the Tower’- This is my favourite story from the collection, the most straight forward horror. The reader experiences a sense of dread which is sustained throughout, achieved by the repetition of the dream and simple utterance of such a chilling phrase, ‘Jack will show you to your room. We have given you the room in the tower’. I loved how each detail added to the fear; the stone outside of the fence, the painting. It all builds to a sense of inescapability, of time pulling us towards our fate, heightened by supposed normality and conviviality of the surroundings. ‘And No Bird Sings’- This is probably the tale I least enjoyed from the collection, although it is my favourite title. I found it to be a simple monster story, although it contains a stunning description of the narrator’s walk through the forest. I admire a short story writer who isn’t afraid to use an in depth descriptive passage. ‘Negolium Perambulans’- This story captures completely the sense of vitality in memories of childhood, particularly connected with places. The descriptions of Polearn are not so much physical, though they map a vivid and intricate picture of the town, but are more illustrative of a child’s understanding of the unspoken fundamentals of the adult community. I found it interesting that all inhabitants of the cursed cottage were in some way set apart, one a reclusive alcoholic, one an artist. John Evans actually leaves a vicarage to live in place of sacrilege. I also loved how this story was evocative of childhood stories and adventures, how they continue to occupy our adult minds. Even viewed through the distance of adult logic, the sense of fear and wonder still bubbles under the surface. I am definitely intending to seek out more E.F.Benson’s aptly named spook stories, which I found were best enjoyed just before going to sleep, with a low light, and slightly uneasy glance at a closed door.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nomadman

    Reading this slim but well-chosen selection of classic supernatural tales made me realise that I actually prefer Benson's work over MR James's. While there's less of the academic's erudition on display, there's a richer variety of tones here, and a wry humour that I absolutely adored, while the supernatural element itself is often handled with an unflinching nastiness that actually took me off guard a few times. Caterpillars is a great example of this, a smoothly written tale filled with local c Reading this slim but well-chosen selection of classic supernatural tales made me realise that I actually prefer Benson's work over MR James's. While there's less of the academic's erudition on display, there's a richer variety of tones here, and a wry humour that I absolutely adored, while the supernatural element itself is often handled with an unflinching nastiness that actually took me off guard a few times. Caterpillars is a great example of this, a smoothly written tale filled with local colour and fine characterisation, and an utterly horrific bite of weirdness at its core. Negotium Perambulans is another first rate story, an almost Lovecraftian tale of hauntings at an old seaside town that I found absolutely gripping. In a similar vein is the harrowing And No Bird Sings about a haunted grove and its ghastly denizen (who seems strikingly like the supernatural menace in the previous story. Cousins perhaps?) The Man Who Went Too Far is a sort of Blackwood-esque tale about a man who attempts to immerse himself wholly in life and become one with the natural world. It's a great example of this type of story ruined slightly by a somewhat prosaic and silly ending, something which Blackwood himself was occasionally guilty of. In the Tube is a clever tale of hauntings and time travel which managed to be both thought provoking and incredibly moving. The Bus Conductor is famous for its inclusion in the superb movie Dead of Night, though I found it a relatively slight and run-of-the-mill piece, albeit not one without its particular charms. The Room in the Tower is probably the most well known piece here, and its reputation is well earned. The techniques on display are a masterclass in unease. Benson uses a recurring dream/nightmare motif to dislocate the reader and prepare him for what follows, though he stops just short of actually giving us any firm idea of the menace until the very end, such that when it arrives it feels both shocking and inevitable. Mrs Amsworth is a slightly less successful effort, though that's partly due to over-familiarity with similar tales of this kind. Nonetheless I still found a number of scenes very eerie indeed, and once again Benson's smooth style masks some real unpleasantness. Spinach was the only story I couldn't quite get into, and it's a shame that it's the opening story of the collection as it doesn't entirely set the right tone for what's to follow. Overall however an excellent selection of tales, though very much a taster rather than a comprehensive 'best of' collection.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    At first I was worrying I'd made a mistake here; the opening story, 'Spinach', is a silly, rather catty little spoof on two fake mediums (media?), far too close in tone not even to Mapp & Lucia proper but to that misfiring recent TV adaptation. And a whole book of that could have got very tiring. Fortunately, it's just an ill-chosen opener, or perhaps one aimed at another demographic of Benson fans, because thereafter the collection picks up markedly. Benson has a gift for capturing the pastoral At first I was worrying I'd made a mistake here; the opening story, 'Spinach', is a silly, rather catty little spoof on two fake mediums (media?), far too close in tone not even to Mapp & Lucia proper but to that misfiring recent TV adaptation. And a whole book of that could have got very tiring. Fortunately, it's just an ill-chosen opener, or perhaps one aimed at another demographic of Benson fans, because thereafter the collection picks up markedly. Benson has a gift for capturing the pastoral charms of England, "those golden days which every now and again leak out of paradise and drip to earth" - but also the way that suddenly you can happen upon a certain house or wood which seems utterly cast out from that joy, uncanny and alone. 'The Man Who Went Too Far' in particular is somewhere between Arthur Machen and Kenneth Grahame, opening with a gorgeous account of English village life which you could excerpt as a pastoral idyll in its own right, and moving through passages of homoerotic mysticism to a conclusion unknowable in advance but inevitable in hindsight. One recurring motif is the clever ways in which Benson frames his hauntings; I first encountered 'The Bus-Conductor' via its adaptation in portmanteau horror classic Dead of Night, complete with incredibly ropey special effects, but I don't recall whether that had the intro in which a failed ghosthunting expedition is the prelude to the apparently more sceptical character's account of his real prior encounter with the supernatural. Similarly, 'The Room in the Tower' leads up to its events proper with a recurring, advancing nightmare which reminded me of nothing so much as the fraying time loop in The Armageddon Factor for its innovative take on the old, tired idea of the countdown to doom. Granted, he's not great at names - one story here has a Hugh Granger, another Hugh Grainger - but somehow even that seems plausible for these tweedy Edwardian everymen. And if he details some of the beasts a little too thoroughly for the chill of the truly unknowable, well, the trade-off is that they do sound genuinely ghastly (crawling, slithering horrors seem a particular favourite).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Can ghost stories be human? When Benson and his contemporaries write them, yes they can. I would not class these stories as among the spookiest I have read; instead I actually found many of these quite touching and full of humanity. One exception to this, however, is "Caterpillar": one of the most abject and disquieting stories I have ever read. At the other end of the spectrum is Spinach, a story full of humour (as well as disquiet). These are not your average ghost stories; they are so much mo Can ghost stories be human? When Benson and his contemporaries write them, yes they can. I would not class these stories as among the spookiest I have read; instead I actually found many of these quite touching and full of humanity. One exception to this, however, is "Caterpillar": one of the most abject and disquieting stories I have ever read. At the other end of the spectrum is Spinach, a story full of humour (as well as disquiet). These are not your average ghost stories; they are so much more.

  20. 4 out of 5

    S.M.M. Lindström

    The title of this book is where "what is says on the tin". Not sure if I would classify it as part of the horror genre, but I know I'm pretty jaded so I've tagged it as such as well as fantasy. The stories vary in mood from humorous/satire to somewhat creepy. You will meet such things as sibling mystics who're trying to solve a murder for the sake of fame to unsettling insects that cause despair for those they visit. Give it a try, but don't expect great scares if you're a person who enjoys the The title of this book is where "what is says on the tin". Not sure if I would classify it as part of the horror genre, but I know I'm pretty jaded so I've tagged it as such as well as fantasy. The stories vary in mood from humorous/satire to somewhat creepy. You will meet such things as sibling mystics who're trying to solve a murder for the sake of fame to unsettling insects that cause despair for those they visit. Give it a try, but don't expect great scares if you're a person who enjoys the horror genre.

  21. 5 out of 5

    BiblioKel

    3.75  A great collection of stories that really showcases Benson's ability to write interesting and clever horror stories.  3.75  A great collection of stories that really showcases Benson's ability to write interesting and clever horror stories. 

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Ghost Stories, like the name suggests, is a selection of ghost stories by E.F. Benson and first published in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. We are introduced to nine short stories, which offer quite a bit of variety in terms of both tone and content. Picking up a ghost book, my expectation was that these stories would be scary. However, I was surprised to find that a lot of these stories, in my opinion, were not scary in the slightest. The story Spinach is playful, whereas The Man Who Went Too Far, Ghost Stories, like the name suggests, is a selection of ghost stories by E.F. Benson and first published in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. We are introduced to nine short stories, which offer quite a bit of variety in terms of both tone and content. Picking up a ghost book, my expectation was that these stories would be scary. However, I was surprised to find that a lot of these stories, in my opinion, were not scary in the slightest. The story Spinach is playful, whereas The Man Who Went Too Far, which I really enjoyed, is more philosophical in nature. The Room in the Tower is actually very good and chilling, however my two favourite stories both had a mystery angle to them: Negotium Perambulans and And No Bird Sings. Ghost Stories are all about ghosts in different shapes and sizes, however as I already said a lot of them I did not find scary, and most stories did not offer any surprises. This left me wondering whether these stories were considered scary 100 years ago? Or maybe these stories actually helped develop the concept of ghost stories in the first place? It may also just be that I'm making the assumption that ghost stories should be scary - and who knows, maybe this does not always have to be the case.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Euan M LLL

    A generally solid collection of fantastic stories that range from traditional ghost stories, to ones verge more on fantasy with displays of elemental creatures. There are 9 stories within and I enjoyed almost all of them enough to give them at least an 8 each. I had previously read; "The Man Who Went Too Far" in the "Weird Woods" book in the "British Library; Tales of the Weird" series and I still feel the same way I do on it now. Great discussion about the subjects it poses, but as a story overal A generally solid collection of fantastic stories that range from traditional ghost stories, to ones verge more on fantasy with displays of elemental creatures. There are 9 stories within and I enjoyed almost all of them enough to give them at least an 8 each. I had previously read; "The Man Who Went Too Far" in the "Weird Woods" book in the "British Library; Tales of the Weird" series and I still feel the same way I do on it now. Great discussion about the subjects it poses, but as a story overall I didn't get much from it. As such this is the one that lets the book down slightly, but it isn't exactly bad either. All of the other stories I enjoyed immensely. "Spinach" (the opener) was a great tale about communicating with a ghost and trying to help it. "The Room in the Tower" was an especially creepy story as was "The Bus Conductor". The closer; "Caterpillars" was more on the macabre side, but still extremely enjoyable none the less and one of my favourites from the book. It is very close to 10/10 read for me, but it is let down by the third story slightly. Highly recommended, a great range of quality stories. 9.5/10

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Peter

    This collection, selected by Mark Gatiss from the work of E.F. Benson, will pass the time, not with the same depth of pleasure or the same tingle-factor as M.R. James, but creepily enough. I found ‘And No Bird Sings’ about a ruthless and ravening shape in the birdless woods was pretty good, and ‘Negotium Perambulans’ has a ‘Thing’ in it which I thought grossly real. There is an unusual story involving a vampire and another involving devilry, and the others are in varying degrees about mysteries This collection, selected by Mark Gatiss from the work of E.F. Benson, will pass the time, not with the same depth of pleasure or the same tingle-factor as M.R. James, but creepily enough. I found ‘And No Bird Sings’ about a ruthless and ravening shape in the birdless woods was pretty good, and ‘Negotium Perambulans’ has a ‘Thing’ in it which I thought grossly real. There is an unusual story involving a vampire and another involving devilry, and the others are in varying degrees about mysteries of which one can but say ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. Useful introduction for me to the world of E.F. Benson.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Howells

    This book was a Christmas (Eve) present, and ghost stories are synonymous with the dark cold evenings of winter. E.F. Benson has the same creepy, macabre, writing style of the master of the English ghost story M.R. James. However these are not stories set on dark stormy nights in gothic locations, these are often set in bright daylight, during the summer in ordinary locations (eg a tube station or a quiet suburban street). The fact that Benson is able to conjure up a sense of creeping dread and This book was a Christmas (Eve) present, and ghost stories are synonymous with the dark cold evenings of winter. E.F. Benson has the same creepy, macabre, writing style of the master of the English ghost story M.R. James. However these are not stories set on dark stormy nights in gothic locations, these are often set in bright daylight, during the summer in ordinary locations (eg a tube station or a quiet suburban street). The fact that Benson is able to conjure up a sense of creeping dread and fear is impressive. A book to be read at night, just before turning off the lights at bedtime. Delicious.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    A selection of stories from three collections published between 1912 and 1934. Benson has a nice easy style and the stories are by turns funny and creepy, sometimes both. Occasionally they verge on the scary. However, they tend to end rather too abruptly and in their relative lightheartedness they lack the depth and genuine chill of MR James’s ghost stories, which inevitably they get compared to. Good Christmas reading.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cazza

    Impressive collection A well chosen mixture of what one might call "ghost stories" and also stories which border on science fiction, beautifully written with sumptuous descriptions. The overlapping themes and motifs are interesting and seem slightly at odd with one another: there's a lot of ethereal quality and "feelings" about a presence...but then there's the gross descriptions of, quite literally, earthy monsters; with this contrast in subject each one serves to highlight the creepiness of the Impressive collection A well chosen mixture of what one might call "ghost stories" and also stories which border on science fiction, beautifully written with sumptuous descriptions. The overlapping themes and motifs are interesting and seem slightly at odd with one another: there's a lot of ethereal quality and "feelings" about a presence...but then there's the gross descriptions of, quite literally, earthy monsters; with this contrast in subject each one serves to highlight the creepiness of the other. A very pleasing and memorable read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    The writer's style and imagery are solid, and the stories are pleasantly diverting, but they lack punch. The tales start strong—a dark force lurking in the woods, a woman who looks much younger than she should may be a vampire—but the endings always fizzle out. Stories that should pop like a ballon instead simply deflate and go limp. The writer's style and imagery are solid, and the stories are pleasantly diverting, but they lack punch. The tales start strong—a dark force lurking in the woods, a woman who looks much younger than she should may be a vampire—but the endings always fizzle out. Stories that should pop like a ballon instead simply deflate and go limp.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ian Burrell

    The tales range from the lightly comic to dark horror. Evocative of the time before two world wars tore apart the old world, the stories are full of suspense and indescribable horror. You can read the influence on Lovecraft. Benson is a master of the short story format and Gatiss' understated delivery is excellent - more than once a shiver went down my spine. Highly recommended. The tales range from the lightly comic to dark horror. Evocative of the time before two world wars tore apart the old world, the stories are full of suspense and indescribable horror. You can read the influence on Lovecraft. Benson is a master of the short story format and Gatiss' understated delivery is excellent - more than once a shiver went down my spine. Highly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    I was hoping for a scary Mapp and Lucia, but this was so far from that. The stories were very simple, and completely devoid of any kind of tension, mystery or intrigue. They mostly spent the first half with unnecessary and tedious setup, then alluded to some kind of paranormal being and finished with an event that confirmed the paranormal thing in as dry l, matter-of-fact a way as possible.

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