Ghost Stories by E. F. Benson – Audio Book Review by Pat V.
Read by Mark Gatiss
There’s nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy train platform. There’s nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don’t be frightened of the dark corners of your room. Don’t be alarmed by a sudden inexplicable chill. There’s no need for a ticking clock, a limping footstep, or a knock at the door to start you trembling. There’s nothing to be scared of. Nothing at all…
In time for Halloween, Mark Gatiss (Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, in the recent TV series which he also wrote and produced) has selected here ten “spook” stories by English novelist and biographer, E F Benson (1867-1940). Benson, a writer of over 100 works, is probably best known nowadays for his satirical portrayal of pretentious small town politics in his Mapp and Lucia series (twice serialised on BBC TV) though he, himself, considered his tales of the supernatural to be his greatest achievement.
This collection lets us see why. Gatiss has chosen stories that show us the different aspects of Benson’s talent, from the eerily supernatural to spine-chilling horror. He starts with “Spinach”, a story that could almost come from the world of Mapp and Lucia. Amateur spiritualists, Thomas and Caroline Carrot, decide that their names evoke “a lack of spiritual suggestiveness which would be a decided handicap in their psychical careers”, so, changing their names to Ludovic and Sylvia Byron and choosing Asteria and Violetta as the names of their spiritual guides, they offer their services to the bereaved trying to make contact with lost loved ones. Almost a game at the start, things quickly slip out of their control and the story moves into a more sinister mode.
Other stories create a sense of premonition and dread from the very start. The narrator in “The Room in the Tower” is invited to stay with friends and knows immediately that something unsettling awaits him when he is ushered into the upstairs room by a servant. The slimy unseen presence in “And No Bird Sings” sets our skin crawling and “Caterpillars” has passages that leave a sense of unease long after the story is finished “All the mouths of the caterpillars, a foot or more in length, were turned in my direction, and next moment they began dropping off the bed with those soft fleshy thuds on to the floor, and wriggling towards me. They appeared to have no faces”
Listening to ghost stories adds an extra frisson and Mark Gatiss is an excellent reader. He conveys the eerie and ominous atmosphere in each of the stories without any melodramatic flourishes. If that scalp-tingling, spine-chilling, jump-at-the-slightest-sound feeling appeals to you, listen to these stories….alone…in the dark!
The audiobook is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 5h 17mins