My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
I was really surprised to see how many of the books I've already read are included within this category on Goodreads, as I'd not categorize myself as a fan of the genre. I remember being told a ghost story when a pre-teen that scared the wits out of me. I've never forgotten the story and I've stayed away from the genre ever since. Or so I thought!
Being surprised, it seemed appropriate to have a quick examination of what makes a story ghostly, especially having read that David Foster Wallace believed 'every love story is a ghost story.' Is the presence of a ghost within the tale sufficient? Clearly it can be, although I'm more in tune with this definition: 'a tale in which such elements as ghostly visitations and supernatural intervention are used to further the plot and a chilling, suspenseful atmosphere.'
On a quick run-through, the ghost stories I've read include "Hamlet" and "Macbeth", "Wuthering Heights" and the full "Harry Potter" series. Somehow, calling works by the Bard a ghost story seems a tad simplistic. It's been a long while since I read them, but I don't recall a view being expressed that the apparitions were anything other than the creation of a crazed mind. Unfortunately, as I so loathed and detested "Wuthering Heights", I'm not sure I even noticed any ghost; this one ends up as a discard too. And finally, casting "Harry Potter" as a ghost story would - surely - be completely missing the point.
That list of ghost stories read having now reduced to Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Joe Hill's "Heart Shaped Box" and Audrey Niffenegger's "Her Fearful Symmetry", it would be hard to say that I missed the ghost ...
The Dickens aside, I did read each one without an idea of where they would lead. The Dickens is so familiar, with many film and animation versions being produced for a younger audience that it's never seemed scary at all. And the least I expect of a ghost story is that it gives you the chills ... In truth, "A Christmas Carol" feels like more of a parable than a ghost story. The writing in the descriptive passages is simply luscious, the pictures painted with words are rich and redolent; this is surely a tale of redemption rather than something to scare the pants off you.
I started with high hopes of Joe Hill, son of the great Stephen King. The tale of a famed rock 'n roller turned collector seemed to contain opportunities aplenty. But whilst it had the odd chill in places, it was also rather dull and absurd. I suspect this was because I didn't fear for the characters, probably because I didnt care for them one iota. I'm afraid that "The Heart Shaped Box" did nothing to change my mind over the genre.
I had even higher hopes for Niffeneggar after enjoying the quality of her writing and the unusual concept in her first novel. The scene setting showed tremendous promise - despite the vacuous nature of the twins - and I came away with a strong desire to visit Highgate cementry. But once we got into the ghost portion of the book, it all went rapidly downhill. I felt that having required us readers to suspend disbelief in accepting the ghost of Elsbeth and the plan to - let's say - merge with Valentina, we were then expected to accept too much else in the story and the plot which made no sense. When the non-ghostly aspects of the story lost believability, it became all too easy to dismiss the ghostly shenanigans.
To those fans of ghost stories I ask: have I read the wrong books? What would you recommend? Or should I accept that the genre is simply not for me?