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John Gaskin


Ghost stories

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2002).

To set out to write ghost stories today in this materialistic age is a bold undertaking. I nevertheless started on this collection with a sense of pleasurable anticipation. Gaskin is an academic philosopher, a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and is described as an antiquary, so I rather expected to read something similar to M.R. James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. James, like Gaskin, was an academic and an antiquary and his tales achieved a very high standard; indeed, they are quite possibly the best ghost stories ever written. Perhaps inevitably, therefore, I was left with a sense of disappointment by Gaskin's collection.

There are 11 stories in all. Several concern elderly men who are nearing the end of life and receive premonitions of one kind or another, sometimes in the shape of a spectral figure. An ancient Senior Fellow plays a posthumous game of chess. A 1759 edition of Epictetus contains ominous graffiti which disappear mysteriously and are apparently associated with a malevolent haunting entity. A young man stays in a haunted youth hostel and inadvertently lays to rest the ghost of a blind woman who died there. I found nearly all the denouements fairly predictable and not in the least frightening. In too many cases the characters tell us that they were terrified but we are not made to feel terrified ourselves. However, the evocation of landscape in some of the tales is good.

%T The Dark Companion
%S Ghost stories
%A Gaskin, John
%I The Lilliput Press
%C Dublin
%D 2001
%G ISBN 1-901866-79-3
%P pp
%K fiction

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