Short Story Review: Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I found the short story Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, in Anthology of Fear: 20 Haunting Stories for Winter Nights (Marshall Cavendish Ltd.)

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, atmospheric quick read with an unexpected ending. Highly recommended for reading on a cold, dark winter’s night. 4 / 5

Summary

Two cousins, Hector and André de Brissac, quarrel over a woman.  André is the cousin favoured by Fortune; women love him and the family money and lands have gone to him.  By contrast, Hector is considered “a rough soldier” and “mannerless boor”.  The quarrel escalates and a challenge to duel is issued, with fatal consequences for André.

But, with his dying breath, André does his best to ensure that Hector does not enjoy his victory nor his inheritance…He claims their quarrel is not yet over.  Hector, however, does not believe in such things…

Favourite Quote

I will come to you when your life seems brightest. I will come between you and all that you hold fairest and dearest. My ghostly hand shall drop a poison in your cup of joy.

(From Eveline’s Visitant by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

Review

I’m a little late completing and posting this review, seeing as though I read the story as one of my Halloween Reads for 2019!

As part of the same reading challenge, I read The Cold Embrace, another short story by the Mary Elizabeth Braddon (you can find that review here).  I noted then that I really liked the author’s writing style and ability to create the most atmospheric and unexpected twists in the story.  So I went into reading Eveline’s Visitant with high expectations and was not disappointed.  Once again the story was atmospheric and the unusual plot twists came as a surprise. Although I would like to go into detail about what was so special about these twists, I won’t for fear of giving too much away.  But I will say this: the ending came as a complete surprise.

My copy was no more than twelve pages long, so it’s a quick read, but for all that, there is no lack of story.  The setting is richly described, both Paris and the inherited estate, and there are enough details of the main characters to make them appear whole and believable.

If you enjoy reading ghost stories on dark nights by candlelight, I recommend you give this a read.  There’s a creepiness to it, a pervading sense of the sinister…

I plan to read more by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and have added her first novel, published in 1862 – a sensational melodrama – Lady Audley’s Secret, to my TBR list.

Rating

 

 

Short Story Review: The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I read The Cold Embrace by Mary Braddon in Anthology of Fear: 20 Haunting Stories for Winter Nights (Marshall Cavendish Ltd).

Quick Review

Atmospheric and unexpected…a fantastic Gothic read for Halloween or a cold, dark winter’s night. 4 / 5

Summary

A German artist, orphaned at an early age, is raised in his uncle’s household where he forms an attachment to his cousin, Gertrude.  They become close and secretly become engaged, only Uncle Wilhelm has high expectations of finding a rich suitor for his daughter…

When the artist is of an age, he travels across Europe undertaking commissions for rich patrons, in the hope of finding fame and fortune.  But what of Gertrude?   She is quickly forgotten…but her retribution at his betrayal cannot be…

Favourite Quote

The date seems burnt into her brain.

The date, written in fire, dances forever before her eyes.

The date, shrieked by the Furies, sounds continually in her ears.

(from The Cold Embrace by Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

Review

I read The Cold Embrace as part of my Halloween Reads challenge for 2019.

Mary Braddon is an author I had not read before, prior to undertaking this year’s Halloween Reads.  Yet it is clear, as soon as I started reading The Cold Embrace, I had been missing something.  This was a great read and I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much.

The Cold Embrace is one of the best Victorian Gothic ghost stories I’ve read.  Full of atmosphere and rich in description, once started, I had to read to the end (it isn’t a particularly long read).  It had just the right amount of creepiness to it without being gory, which is how I prefer my ghost stories.

There is a sadness to the story that cannot be avoided due to the tragic subject matter, but the author doesn’t dwell too heavily on it.  Rather, a clever response, beautifully written, sees the fiancée get her retribution.  Although the storyline is predictable, I don’t believe its execution was.

I read a second story by this author for my Halloween Reading challenge, Eveline’s Visitant, so keep an eye out for that forthcoming review.  It was another good story 😉

I expect that I will be reading many more stories by Mary Braddon in the future, because I certainly enjoyed this one.  It was perfect for the Halloween challenge and equally suited to reading on a cold, dark winter’s night. Recommended!

Rating

Book Review: The Turn of The Screw by Henry James

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A spooky gothic ghost story with a great atmosphere and much tension, but the writing style takes quite a bit of getting used to.  The ambiguity of the narrative ensures the story stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

Favourite Quote

I couldn’t chose between the two:

*

The apparition had reached the landing half-way up and was therefore on the spot nearest the window, where, at sight of me, it stopped short and fixed me exactly as it had fixed me from the tower and from the garden.

*

Dishonoured and tragic, she was all before me; but even as I fixed and, for memory, secured it, the awful image passed away.  Dark as midnight in her black dress, her haggard beauty and her unutterable woe, she had looked at me long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers.

Review

My review of The Turn of The Screw is a mixed one…

I read this as 2018’s Halloween Read, because I remembered a TV adaptation I saw as a teenager that nicely spooked me out.  I have been planning to read this for a number of years, but my copy had become lost amongst the numerous books on my shelves.  I stumbled across it whilst searching for a different book in the summer and rather sensibly set it aside…

I both enjoyed The Turn of The Screw and found it frustrating to read.  My thoughts on it run somewhat like the lines of a nursery rhyme: when it was good, it was very, very good but when it was hard to read, it was horrid.

Where the spooky events occurred, they were indeed perfect.  The tension during these passages is palpable and the atmosphere conjured, exquisitely gothic.  My heart rate increased as I read these pages and I could feel myself tense up, as if I, along with the governess, was witness to the occurrences.  If a writer wants to learn how to write an atmospheric, tense, spooky ghost story, I recommend this book to them for these scenes alone.

As for the style of writing, it takes quite a bit of getting used to and isn’t at all that easy to read.  The sentence construction is unusual, and sentences are heavy and overly long.  There is also quite a bit of interrupted dialogue.  This does, unfortunately, detract from the enjoyment of reading the story and slows the pace considerably.

Another issue I had with the story was the very abrupt ending.  I felt that it needed something else after the last chapter to bring the story to a proper conclusion.  As it was, I was left feeling adrift after the final scene and dissatisfied.

But, the triumph of the story is certainly in its ambiguity.  The psychological undertones manipulate what is and isn’t real until you can’t help but ask, what is really going on?  Does the governess really see what she thinks she sees, or is she mad?  Are there ghosts?  Are the children creepy or innocent?  In my opinion, there is nothing in the story that suggests these children are the angels the governess claims them to be…but, as for the rest I still can’t decide.

It’s so hard to rate this.  I read it at Halloween for it’s spookiness and in this respect, it delivered, and yet, reading it was hard-going and almost chore-like. 4 stars sounds high after this review, but 3.5 doesn’t sound high enough, methinks…

Rating

Short Story Review: The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford

Summary

An old sailor moves into a house which is haunted by a screaming skull.  Whenever the skull is moved, or the old sailor tries to get rid of it, strange, sometimes terrifying happenings occur in the house.  The house used to be occupied by a couple he was friends with, a Dr Pratt and his wife.  Whilst staying with them once before their deaths, he shared with them a tale he had heard on one of his many travels…and now, he can’t help but wonder if the presence of the screaming skull has something to do with him…

Favourite Quote

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest.

Review

I really enjoyed this short story.  Although it wasn’t chilling or scary, it was very atmospheric and quite suspenseful in places.  Gruesome details add to the macabre nature of the story, whilst the narrator proclaiming loud and often that he is a sensible man who doesn’t believe in ghosts and ghostly things, brings balance to the telling.

The story is told in such a way that it’s as if the narrator is relating it to you as it is told from his point of view and in a conversational style.  However, he’s actually talking to another character, a friend from his maritime days, but of him we hear very little.

On the negative side, the story feels quite long for the amount of story and detail we are given.  If it had been a little more condensed, I think the creepiness of the story would have increased.

I recommend The Screaming Skull to those who enjoy macabre ghost stories and those who read early twentieth century literature.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The Kit Bag by Algernon Blackwood

Summary (from Goodreads)

“The Kit-Bag” is a short ghost story by the British author Algernon Blackwood. It was first published in the December 1908 issue of Pall Mall Magazine.

The action takes place in London shortly before Christmas. The story’s protagonist is a young man named Johnson who works for an eminent lawyer named Arthur Wilbraham. Arthur Wilbraham has been defending a man named John Turk, who was accused of murdering a woman and cutting her body up into small pieces. Johnson is obliged to be in court for every day of the trial, which he finds highly unpleasant. When the trial is over, Johnson is glad that he will not have to see John Turk’s face again and is looking forward to going away on a Christmas vacation to the Alps. He asks Arthur Wilbraham to lend him a kit-bag to take with him on vacation. After the requested kit-bag arrives, Johnson passes a fright filled night.

Favourite Quote

“I’m glad it’s over because I’ve seen the last of that man’s dreadful face.  It positively haunted me.  That white skin, with the black hair brushed low over the forehead, is a thing I shall never forget…”

Review

Amazing.  Simply amazing.  A fantastic read, perfect for the Christmas Eve tradition of reading ghost stories, which is when I read it by candlelight.

The Kit Bag is a classic ghost story, and one of my favourites.  It is atmospheric and chilling.  The author really knows how to build the tension throughout the story.  It’s a short, quick read, so to say any more about it will probably lead to spoilers.

For the writers out there who want to learn how to write a good ghost story that will stay with your readers long after they have finished it, take a look at The Kit Bag.

This is my favourite read of 2017’s Festive Reads Fortnight, and I don’t doubt that I shall return to it again and again.

Rating

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

the-woman-in-black-front-cover[This review may contain spoilers]

The Woman in Black was my 2016 Halloween read, and my, was it a great choice.

Arthur Kipps works for a London law firm that is in charge of the estate of one Mrs Alice Drablow.  On her death, Kipps is sent to her home, Eel Marsh House, Crythin Gifford, in the middle of a mist-filled nowhere surrounded by marsh, to go through her papers to ensure that all is in order.

However, as soon as he arrives in the small agricultural town, it becomes apparent that this is not the easy, fun task he thought it would be.  This is not some leisurely, country jaunt.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite and it all begins with the glimpsing of a strange woman dressed in black at the funeral of Alice Drablow, a woman no one will talk to him about.  As an outsider with no knowledge of the local history, he has no idea what his sighting portends…

The Woman in Black is a psychological ghost story that spends its time building up to a very creepy atmosphere, one that is heightened by that which isn’t said rather than that which is.  The not knowing what everyone else knows is certainly a clever way of increasing tension within the narrative.  Only once it is deemed that Arthur Kipps has witnessed enough himself, will anyone reveal anything to him.

I’m not often spooked by spooky things, but there were a few times reading this that I felt chilled to the bone.  The use of repetition, in particular, was very creepy, both in terms of describing sound, but also in the theme.  Not only is Eel Marsh House haunted, but so is Kipps, by his experience.

The downsides to this book were few and minor, and perhaps only recalled because the rest of the book was just so good.  The ending felt very abrupt compared to the slow-burn of the majority of the story, and yet the final words are almost harrowing in their bluntness:

They asked for my story.  I have told it.  Enough.

There was also a little puzzle of an inscription that didn’t make sense to me, and I wish that it expressly stated when the story was set though it definitely had the feel of a Victorian Gothic ghost story to it.

The positives far outweighed the negative, and included that the setting was perfect for this type of story and really captured the essence of Victorian Gothic spookiness.  The characters also helped in crafting the narrative into a piece of chilling literature.  One of my favourites was the brave dog, Spider, whose fearlessness juxtaposed well the feelings of terror experienced by Kipps, which again, served to increase the tension.  The author is a great storyteller and says just enough to make you wonder, to keep you reading.

The Woman in Black was a great read, one that I am certain I will return to, and often, in the future.  If you enjoy ghost stories or are looking for a fitting tale to read one cold, dark night, this would be a very good choice.  Also, if you would like to try you hand a writing a ghost story, this book illustrates well how to successfully accomplish it.

5 Reviews for…Halloween

Looking for a good book to read this 31st October….Take a look below at a few of my recommendations from my book review archives…

Or, if you are feeling particularly generous, you may wish to take a look at The Cellars – A Halloween Short Story that I wrote and posted on my writing blog. 😀

Happy Halloween!