Leinster Gardens And Other Subtleties by Jan Edwards (book review).

September 8, 2015 | By | Reply More

The problem with reading a book of ghost stories is that you are always on the look-out for the ghost. It is harder to surprise the reader but a skilled writer can do it especially if they make use of the full use of range of ghosts that appear in literature. Many Victorian writers liked the idea of the vengeful ghost, the innocent who suffers at the hands of the wicked and wants justice. Other ghosts don’t realise they are dead and don’t know that they have to move on, while others are somehow trapped. Experiences that might be interpreted as ghosts may merely be a replay of events with no spirit involved or a lost spirit from another dimension may not understand the havoc they are causing. There are probably as many interpretations of the phenomena labelled ghosts as there are apparitions recorded. The challenge is to make the supernatural unexpected rather than unexplained.

LeinsterGardens

In this volume of fourteen ghost stories called ‘Leinster Gardens And Other Subtleties’, Jan Edwards explores the nature of the ghostly event and finds ways of reinterpreting it. Many of these stories have their roots in folklore and urban myth and many reportings of ghostly sightings have already entered into the mythology of the haunted place.

The title story, ‘Concerning The Events In Leinster Gardens’, has the authenticity of the 1930s in both language and attitudes. It also draws on the scams that were able to catch out the unwary. Archie buys a ticket to a masked ball in good faith. From the moment of his arrival in Leinster Gardens, the reader is aware that nothing is quite what it seems. Gullible Archie is not so fortunate. The challenge is to spot all the tropes that Edwards is playing with.

Whereas the house itself in Leinster Gardens can be regarded as the ghost, ‘The Waiting’ would be regarded as more traditional with a house being haunted. It is the approach that makes it different, cutting between past and present.

A good way of solving the ‘which is the ghost?’ problem is a bit of misdirection. Titles well chosen can provide it as in ‘Nanna Barrows’, a story narrated by a young girl, now an invalid after having recovered from diphtheria.

‘April Love’ gives us a choice of possible ghosts. Some often weak stories, don’t reveal that the narrator is a ghost until the very end, leaving the reader feeling cheated. This doesn’t happen here as the narrative is third person but seen from the points of view of April and her two suitors. It is very carefully plotted to keep the reader guessing.

By default, ghost stories have an element of the past within them. Often it is a contemporary figure interacting with a spectre that has their origin in history. In most of Edwards’ stories, the setting for the events is also historical. ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Lightfoot’ is an exception because it crosses boundaries. Lucy has returned to the place of her birth on the Isle of Wight to finish what started nearly two hundred years previously. The story manages to combine paganism, folklore, time travel and immortality yet still contains ghosts, though this time they are much harder to spot. Because of this and its longer length, it is my favourite in this collection.

‘Orbyting’ is very different and a complete contrast to the stories on either side in the book as it has a very modern high-tech SF feel to it. Kat is part of a team of ghost hunters and when she returns to the office to retrieve forgotten keys she gets locked in. On screen, she is hunting a ghost but is it also hunting her?

Two stories here are very much of the traditional type. In fact, the idea of ‘R For Roberta’ has been used before. It is elderly man at the end of his life who is remembering the time in the war when the plane he should have been on didn’t return from its war-time mission. While in ‘Wade’s Run’, two lost women are taken to a hostel after an accident by a helpful motorist, after he runs them down.

Like ‘R For Roberta’, ‘Redhill Residential’ has its roots in WWII when many airmen failed to return. Again, it is the past impinging on the present, but this is a much more unusual and subtle story. ‘Valkenswaard’ is another war-time ghost story but where death is violent and loss is both dreaded and expected the frequency of ghostly events is intensified. In this story, though, the apparition is closer to the one who experiences it and could be regarded as a spirit who doesn’t yet know that the body is dead or a spirit determined to keep a promise no matter what.

Most ghosts are perceived to have the same appearance as when they died. Some, who believe in a happy afterlife, imagine their loved ones at the peak of their Earthly fitness, so when the lover dies young, the partner living to ripe old age will be rejuvenated when they meet again. There are obvious flaws on this arrangement but that is no reason to think that a spirit is identical to the body they left with all the traumas of injury or sickness. In ‘The Clinic’, this is something Sarah gets to consider when her younger sister dies.

Young men are always ready to laugh at the tall tales of their elders. Whether they are ready to believe them or not doesn’t stop them daring each other, especially after a few beers, which is why in ‘The Eve Watch’, the two youths celebrating their last night of freedom before being called up, are lurking in the churchyard. According to Jem’s Granfer, watching their three consecutive years will grant a vision of those about to die. Here, we have an example of a predictive ghost, a messenger from the spirit world where the future is known.

The final two stories both deal with transformations, but in very different ways. In ‘Otterburn’, there is a question as to whether there is a ghost here, a transformation or even a death. There is certainly a disappearance. The skill of the writing allows the reader to make their own decisions as to what has taken place on the river bank.

With ‘The Black Hound Of Newgate’, there is no doubt that sorcery has taken place. In folklore, there are many tales of ghostly black dogs roaming the countryside, often portending bad luck for whoever sees it. This one haunts Newgate Gaol. It is often postulated that we all have an animal inside us and that out human form is merely a veneer. The question this story asks is whether both parts of a soul die at the same time or can one form become a ghost leaving the alter ego having a material presence. After a riot in the gaol, one man may have the chance to find out.

This book can be read simply as a collection of ghost stories but, on another level, it exploring the variety of ghostly phenomena and asking the reader to wonder why we are so fascinated by them. Many of these stories are set in the past and Jan Edwards is very good at evoking an earlier era in a minimum of words. It is perhaps a volume to be dipped in to rather than reading straight through.

Pauline Morgan

August 2015

(pub: Alchemy Press, Stafford, UK, 2015137 page enlarged paperback.. £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9929809-4-8)

check out website: https://alchemypress.wordpress.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Horror

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