Biblioasis, along with famous Canadian cartoonist Seth, have once again released three Victorian ghost stories just in time for the holiday season, and they’re fantastic.
Harkening back to the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas, these stocking stuffer-sized books aim to help re-connect readers with that mostly forgotten holiday pastime.
This year’s batch have been this reviewer’s favourite so far (admittedly, I’ve only been reviewing these stories for three years). All three stories are highly engaging and beautifully written. The tension and dread creep through each story like an unseen monster, gaining in size with each page and readying to pounce.
Seth’s monochromatic and stark illustrations throughout add an extra dose of spooky to these stories of the supernatural.
As always, these stories are short enough to be read aloud in one sitting.
This year’s stories are:
The Sundial by R. H. Malden
When a recently retired civil servant takes up residence in a home in the English countryside rumoured to have ‘had some trouble’ some years prior, he doesn’t think anything of it. Upon discovering the previous resident had been planning on installing a sundial (right before his untimely death), in the spot where an old tree trunk stands, the narrator decides the idea was a good one, and orders a sundial. After placing the order, the man is plagued by nightmares, and begins to notice that perhaps he is not alone on his property.
The Sundial is very much a traditional story of a haunting. The story is quite short, coming in at a little under fifty pages, but the pacing is quick and the story escalates in a satisfying way. The Sundial would be excellent to read aloud around a holiday campfire.
The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier
After Midge passes away, the narrator can’t help but be somewhat relieved to no longer have his wife’s heavy energy and blatant resentment in the house. But things are not all happy for this recent widower. There’s an apple tree out in the yard that he swears looks more and more like Midge. It appears to be watching him, and gives him the same feeling of inadequacy that Midge used to when he gazes upon it. Should he get rid of the tree, or is the ever-increasing feeling of dread and displeasure at home all in his head?
The Apple Tree, coming in at 124 pages is the longest of this year’s batch of stories. Daphne du Maurier’s ability to lead the reader down one line of thinking, only to pull the rug out from under them is very well done. The story lets the narrator’s dislike to the tree set the tone for the piece, and after a while, it becomes unclear who the true antagonist of the story really is.
The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell
The most supernatural of the bunch, The Old Nurse’s Story gives the account of a nurse who moves with Rosamond, her recently orphaned charge into the home of Rosamond’s aunt. Soon, the nurse finds herself dealing with a host of supernatural characters, doomed to play out the circumstances around their deaths. This wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t for the ghost of a woman and a little girl, who are set on luring young Rosamond away from her nurse, and to her doom.
This one was a real page-turner, with a high-energy climax. Coming in at 76 pages, this chilling story makes an excellent, fast-paced read.
As always, these stories are good, spooky fun, with quirky illustrations. If you haven’t picked up one of these little ghost stories, they are definitely worth the read.
by R. H. Malden
Biblioasis, 2019, $8.95 CAD, 56pp.
The Apple Tree
by Daphne du Maurier
Biblioasis, 2019, $8.95 CAD, 128pp.
The Old Nurse’s Story
by Elizabath Gaskell
Biblioasis, 2019, $8.95 CAD, 80pp.
Lindsey Childs is the Assistant Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Prairie Fire. She normally edits the book reviews, but occasionally snags a book off of her overflowing ‘to be reviewed’ bookcase and does a review herself.