An English Ghost Story

Today I read Kim Newman’s An English Ghost Story; I think it’s accurate to say that. I was up until past one this morning, til my eyes were crossed and I couldn’t focus any more, and then I read the rest today, while I should have been tending to my daughters.

Kim Newman has long been a favourite author of mine, back from the early 90s when he made money writing novels for Games Workshop, based on their games (which were of course rip offs of other fantasy work from way back when). I loved The Quorum, The Bloody Red Baron, The Night Mayor… For a long time his works were out of print, but he’s undergone a recent renaissance, to the point that where once he was impossible to find in most bookshops, now he occupies a significant amount of shelf space in Singapore’s national library.

Much of his work is based around Somerset (especially Jago and The Quorum) and so does An English Ghost Story. There’s also familiar themes – vampires , consensual reality, movies – that blur through his books, allowing fun games of spot-the-reference. In An English Ghost Story, his vampire journalist from the Anno Dracula cycle, Catriona Kaye, appears, then flits away again.

The story starts strongly, with a happy family and a sense of foreboding. I never really felt satisfied by the ending; after the earlier preparation, nothing was as apocalyptic as it should have been. What ended up being delivered was much more a study in psychology than the supernatural – less of a series of terrifying encounters and more rumination on what a family means. Although I see that to add to the palimpsest of Newman’s work, he’s just published a novel written about in An English Ghost Story. Good on him.

It also felt like there were a few loose ends that were tied too quickly at the end; the mother’s friend, Vron, has a couple of pages at the end that feel quite dislocated from the rest of the story. There also felt like references to the strange events of Jago; but if you’re going to build an entire mythos, like Lovecraft but with better vocabulary, the second point is much more forgivable.

All in all, a compulsive, readable story, but less effective than, say, The Quorum. But still worth those sleepless hours.


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