The Ghost Who Bled – Gregory Norminton – Book Review by P. Viale.
Gregory Norminton’s second collection of short stories takes the reader on a journey from Malaysia to East Anglia, Cambodia to San Francisco and Elizabethan England to uncharted periods in the future. While varied in tone and setting, the stories all show characters struggling to make sense of their situation, of what the past has bequeathed them and what the future might bring. From the Kafkaesque “Confessions of a Tyrant’s Double” to the unsettling title story “The Ghost who Bled”. Norminton’s blending of humour and pathos is unusual and intriguing.
Norminton, a lecturer of creative writing at Manchester University, is the author of three novels and a book of aphorisms, “The Lost Art of Losing”. He has dramatised works by E. M. Forster and Bruce Chatwin for radio and a number of his stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His first book of stories, “Thumbnails”, is a collection of 48 short tales that mix myth, comedy and tragedy and are as varied in setting as the present collection.
Here, in “The Poison Tree”, we meet two comrades who fought together in the Malaysian jungle where they depended on each other for survival but are unable to live in harmony once they find themselves as neighbours in suburban England. The main character in “Fall Caesar”, an ageing actor who is diagnosed with a terminal illness, devises an original way of leaving the stage for good, in style. Needless to say, this does not go to plan. The Ghost in the title story is a Japanese soldier who did not live up to the honour code of the Bushido and is condemned to walk the earth for all eternity.
The wide range of subject and mood in these stories means they are probably best enjoyed as individual pieces rather than as a collection. Norminton’s style is, at times, too deliberately poetic and self-conscious and we are too aware of his efforts to create an atmosphere rather than appreciating any success in doing so. However, there are some fine stories that make it worthwhile for the reader to ignore the often laboured style. Many of these subversive and original tales will register with readers in their own, idiosyncratic way.