Monday, February 27, 2012

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book"

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book"
from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by M. R. James

(This volume of ghost stories is now in the public domain, and I got my copy for free from Amazon.)

I downloaded this collection of short stories soon after seeing M. R. James mentioned in one of Barbara Michael's novels (Someone in the House) as having written "some of the most gruesome ghost stories in the English language".  With a recommendation like that, I couldn't resist.

So, I finally got around to reading the first story in this collection, while walking on the treadmill.  (More distracting than music.)  It started out a little slowly, and I admit I was a little turned off by all the French names of people and places (even the Englishman had an odd name) and completely unfamiliar words that meant nothing to me-- possibly because I'm not Catholic, possibly because they're simply obscure.

Once the story was going, there was a definite creepiness.  It felt like it ended too soon, though-- like the bones for a better, more detailed story were there, but it just wasn't fleshed out as well as it might have been.  Instead of drawing things out a little, it was rushed to conclusion-- a truly short short story.  I've since read that this was likely the author's first ghost story; maybe his later stories are more satisfying.  Still, despite the pacing issues, it was a solid start and promising for fans of the old-fashioned ghost story.   (Strictly speaking, this one had no ghosts.  It was worse than a ghost.)  I'll be keeping this book near the top of my "in progress" list.  (Unlike Humorous Ghost Stories, which, you may have noticed, I haven't touched in many months.  I may have to skim/skip a story or two to get back into that one...)