Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Mammoth Book Of Ghost Stories By Women

edited by Marie O'Regan


This anthology features a mixture of ghost stories by modern and classic authors, so the styles are quite varied. There's something quite wordy and dour about the way ghost stories were written in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and it's a style that has quite rightly fallen out of favour, in my view. I found Elizabeth Gaskell's The Old Nurse's Story very slow to build up, although its ending is tragic and moving. Stories by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Mary Cholmondeley and Amelia B. Edwards were all somewhat linear and obvious.

However, quite a few of the modern tales were a lot pacier. Gail Z. Martin's Among The Shoals Forever is an atmospheric story of slaves, voodoo, and high magic as a team of supernatural sleuths investigate a powerful and perhaps cursed brooch. It's clearly part of an existing series, and it stands out because it's different from the rest of this collection, although it's not dissimilar from a lot of urban fantasy in general.

Alex Bell's The Fifth Bedroom is the story of an angry divorcee whose looks have been ruined after a car crash. Her former husband has a lot to answer for, but now she's moved into a big old house where she may not be as alone as she wants to be. It's a good psychological horror, and it was one of my favourites even though its conclusion is somewhat enraging.

Sarah Langan's The Ninth Witch is set in a post-apocalyptic nightmare world where women aren't valued at all. The ninth daughter of a ninth daughter, a witch, is treated horrifically in this allegorical feminist rant. Elizabeth Massie's Sister, Shh... is set in Arizona in a community that's also a patriarchal nightmare. Two young women are running away from evil men, in a society where men can do as they please. It's another violent, button-pushing story.

Lisa Tuttle's The Third Person deals with a couple of friends, one of whom imposes on the other for help with a secret affair. It's icky and creepy, and I really enjoyed the twist. Another outstanding story is Front Row Rider by Muriel Gray, in which a fat and under-confident woman lets her friends persuade her to take a roller-coaster ride. The main character has a strong voice, and she's very likeable.

Aside from those by Lisa Tuttle, Muriel Gray, and Alex Bell, I found most of the other stories middling to good. There are a few well-worn twists and themes that often come up in ghost stories: some character we think is alive being a ghost, grief, the ghost who points to whoever wronged him or her, for instance. I didn't understand what Nina Allan's Seeing Nancy, or Nancy Holder's Freeze Out were trying to say, although both stories touched on serious issues: PTSD and the abuse of people with dementia respectively.

Overall this is a very varied collection, with styles all over the place, and it's also quite variable in quality. I think most fans of the supernatural would be able to find something to like and dislike in this anthology, because it's such a mixed bag.

11th November 2013

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books


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