Category Archives: Peter Ackroyd

The English Ghost – Peter Ackroyd

Happy Halloween to one and all! I think this might actually be one of my favourite days of the year, yes even more so than Christmas, because I really do love all things spooky that go bump in the dark. I am a Most Haunted addict; love a good horror movie that makes me jump and love curling up with a good ghost story too. With the dark and chilly autumnal night’s drawing in (even more since the clocks changed yesterday) I am in my element curled up late at night with the curtains open in my warm room, wanting to be lost in a terrifying tale. Therefore I thought that I would really enjoy ‘The English Ghost’ by Peter Ackroyd, and in many ways I did. Yes, you are right, there is a ‘but’ coming.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2011, non fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Because of Peter Ackroyd’s reputation for fiction as well as non fiction preceding him before I had even read a word I had very high expectations from this book. I wanted a really interesting and eye opening dialogue with Peter about the ghost stories that he had collected all over the UK and why indeed the British Isles seems to be a place where hosts are seen far more than in any other country in the world. I did get this… in the introduction, which I loved.

The problem was that from then on we simply had a collection/anthology of all the ghost stories that Ackroyd had found, and while I happily admit I enjoyed them I did want something more. The more I read the opening words in each tale like ‘the following letter by…’ or ‘the following report appeared in the ‘X’ newspaper’ the more I was thinking ‘hang on, is this a bit of a cut and paste job. Is this all research and no real revelation or conversation?’ It was a conversation with Ackroyd about the ghost stories and the facts and people involved with them that I wanted not really an encyclopaedia.

This makes me sound really ungrateful I know, and I did actually read it in just a few days because it is great to dip in and out of. I should have just thought ‘wow, what a collection of tales from the infamous Borley Rectory, to smaller unknown stories’ (I was excited that the Blue Bell Hill story was included as my Great Aunty Pat told me that tale as a kid as she knew the people involved) and some of the stories are genuinely unnerving (weirdly the more modern ones) as from the witness accounts you know several people saw these events happen and it does make you ponder on what on earth is really out there. I did also really like Ackroyd’s retelling of the stories when there were no ‘official’ accounts too, I just wanted more dialogue with him, more banter. There isn’t even an afterword or really any note on why he wanted to do this particular paranormal project.

I am aware this is rather a short set of book thoughts, and one I feel I have come away doing Ackroyd a slight disservice in writing. If you want a collection of true life, well it depends on what you believe – but I do, ghost stories then this would be an ideal read for you. If you are looking for a book that tells the tales and discusses why these might have happened or any other subjective thoughts and reasoning’s you might want to try elsewhere. I liked ‘The English Ghost’ a lot, I just expected more, so maybe the fault lies with me?

If you are hankering after more ‘spooky shenigans’ then do pop and listen to the ‘spooky special’ fourth episode of The Readers here. Me and Gav are in halloween costumes and everything!

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Filed under Non Fiction, Peter Ackroyd, Review, Vintage Books