The Haunted Book – Jeremy Dyson

As a child I can remember that when I first was allowed to choose books for myself from the library the ones that came home with me would be of a spooky variety. I seem to remember ploughing through ‘The Illustrated Book of Ghosts’, ‘The World’s Greatest Mysteries’ and the like at a phenomenal rate. I seem to remember anything about spontaneous human combustion, Spring Heeled Jack and ghosts would have my interest and to be truthful that hasn’t really stopped. I am a smidgen obsessed with Most Haunted, having all the DVDs, love horror movies and have a small (read actually quite big) shelf of non-fiction books in the bedroom. So when I received ‘The Haunted Book’ by Jeremy Dyson, who wrote the show ‘Ghost Stories’ which petrified me at the theatre, I put all other books to one side and curled up on the sofa with it straight away.

Canongate Books, hardback, 2012, non-fiction/fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘The Haunted Book’ is one of those books where the author, who happens to also be its narrator in part, keeps talking directly to the reader. For example as we read the introduction to the book Dyson tells us how as a child he was fascinated by true and fictional ghostly tales and then how as an adult he is contacted by a journalist, Aiden Fox, who has come across some modern stories and would like an author to create fictional accounts for a book. So we follow Dyson as, after a few doubts, he goes to some much lesser known haunted places (tunnels under Manchester, nuclear bunkers, disused psychiatric hospitals etc) to research the area and indeed retell the tales.

I really liked this mix of these possible ghostly tales with Dyson’s thoughts on the people and the places intermingling, it worked for me and I was very much torn as to whether this was fact or fiction. Something he keeps you guessing for quite some time. The stories themselves are all wonderfully eerie, so much so that ‘Kitson from Nealon’, the tale of a sex-with-strangers addict who moves into a new home to have some really creepy, yet minor, things happen within, actually gave me the full on creeps and I had to stop reading it in bed.

Then ‘The Haunted Book’ takes an unusual twist as Dyson suddenly comes upon a book, called ‘This Book is Haunted’ which contains another book ‘A Book of Hauntings’ inside it both with ghostly tales from the 1960’s and 70’s and Edwardian times – the latter of course still being deemed the period in which ghost stories really were in their element. And it is here that a slight quibble for me arrived, however as I don’t want to ruin this for anyone and don’t know how to do that magical thing where you make the text disappear until it’s highlighted, here is a warning…

IF YOU DON’T WANT ANYTHING SPOILED FOR YOU THEN DON’T READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH NO MATTER HOW MUCH THIS SENTENCE MIGHT MAKE YOU WANT TO. DON’T. OK?

It is here that you very much realise the book is a fiction, which I admit as I was so spellbound and love ghost stories so much was slightly disappointed by, yet because Dyson’s writing is so brilliant you don’t mind. I thought he captured the atmosphere and history of the ghost stories in these era’s wonderfully. Yet the narrative from him vanished at this point and I really liked that so I felt slightly saddened again despite how much I was enjoying it. My next quibble though was the final section of the book, which is all in black pages with white writing. In case any naughty people are still reading who haven’t read the book yet and might do all I will say is that I got what Dyson was trying to do and I appreciated it, but I didn’t ‘get’ it in a way because it seemed to dispel all the work he had put in. I think this ending will be a Marmite one for readers. After an initial slight peeved moment or two from me he just about got away with it because of everything that had gone before. There, that is all I will say. Email me if you want to discuss it further.

NOW YOU MAY CARRY ON READING AS I CONCLUDE MY SPOILER FREE THOUGHTS ON ‘THE HAUNTED BOOK’. APOLOGIES FOR SHOUTING BUT IF I SPOILT THIS YOU WOULD BE VERY CROSS.

‘The Haunted Book’ is a really difficult book to say too much more about really, because it is one of those books where nothing is what it seems and where there is a very clever game being played all the way through. This makes it sound like a book which is not to be trusted, and I don’t mean it like that, it is more it’s a book that is filled with unease in part because of the stories within and also because you feel like the rug is going to be pulled out from under your feet at any moment. It’s like the bookish version of walking through a haunted house at a fairground, there could be something lurking around every corner and you just have to tell yourself ‘it’s not real is it?’ I enjoyed this book rather a lot and if you like spooky goings on and ghostly tales, or the League of Gentlemen, then I imagine you will too.

Has anyone else read this and if so what did you think? (Beware of spoilers in the comments.) Did any of you have a grim fascination as a child with all this sort of stuff? What is your favourite ‘true’ ghost story or collection of ‘true’ ghost stories? I feel I might want to add more to my collection.

P.S You can hear Jeremy on this week’s spooky episode of The Readers and see the brilliantly spooky trailer for ‘The Haunted Book’ here.

6 Comments

Filed under Canongate Publishing, Jeremy Dyson, Review

6 responses to “The Haunted Book – Jeremy Dyson

  1. I very much agree with you. I haven’t reviewed the book yet and I’m finding it hard to know where to start, not least because of not wanting to give too much away (but I need to make up my Amazon Vine total so will have to tackle it!)

    I think you can enjoy this book at the individual level of the stories (which are great), and stop there, or go further and engage with what Dyson is doing overall. To get that properly probably requires rereading, though.

    • It is a really difficult book to review, hence the spoiler notes. I was a little bit worried people would ignore them, as its always tempting to do something you shouldn’t, but least the warnings are there.

      I agree about enjoying it just for the stories alone. I just liked the engagement and that fizzled out for me sadly after a while. Fortunately it didn’t tarnish the book overall though.

  2. mcresswell

    Ghost Stories was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve liked his short stories so this sounds amazing — ordering right now…

    • Wasn’t Ghost Stories just ridiculously scary Matt? If you haven’t been yet you simply must go and see the stage version of The Woman in Black which is another play that had me horrified. I am hoping Ghost Stories tours the UK again.

      Hope you like the book!

      • mcresswell

        It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, Ghost Stories — we went very early on when it had just started. I then broke down on the motorway home which, in context, was very very nerve-wracking.

        I’ve seen The Woman In Black onstage twice but seem to be in the minority in not finding it particularly scary. It might be a victim of over-hype before I saw it though — ‘you have you see this, it will terrify you,” etc. The second time I went was as a teacher, with an entire class of teenagers who all started out pretending to be tough but were all reduced to screaming very quickly–I enjoyed it much more for everyone else’s reaction than actually watching the play.

      • Hahahaha maybe you’re school group were the very same ones who were in the audience on a repeat trip. I got scared all over again and loved all the screaming around me.

        I too saw Ghost Stories at the start and indeed was petrified! Told everyone I knew to make sure they saw it! Breaking down after that, the car not mentally, would be horrendous!

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