Ghost stories are often not about ghosts at all – they are about people. And so goes Edward Parnell’s Ghostland, a deeply personal and quietly magnificent reflection on what it is to be human, through a genre-blending mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction.
Despite its ubiquity in our media and news cycle, death remains a taboo subject in the United States. Unless raised in a culture or religion that employs open casket viewings at funerals or part of a field that requires cadavers as educational tools, few Americans interact with the dead – American culture staves off acknowledgement of our own mortality. Megan Rosenbloom seeks to disrupt our reluctance to look death in the eye. Or, in the case of her new book Dark Archives, in the pages.
In a London suburb in 1938, with war looming on the horizon, attractive well-off housewife Alma Fielding is being plagued by a poltergeist. Glass and china are splintering in mid-flight before smashing to the floor, objects float down the stairs behind her, lumps of coal levitate from the grate… it is a house under siege – from itself.
There’s often a temptation, with the gothic, to believe that it all began with the paragons: with the first stirrings of Victor Frankenstein’s monster or the tapping of the raven at Poe’s window. But a vast and significant portion of its history lies with a different group of authors, many of whose works have been largely lost to time, whose names are no longer known and who have been commonly represented as unoriginal, unimaginative authors dealing as much in melodrama as in moralism.
So-called “genre” fiction has had, since its inception, an issue with defining itself. Even the word itself is vague, coming from the same root as the less-flattering description “generic”. It implies a mass of different types, clustered together haphazardly and cowering beneath the monolithic purity of the much more proper literary fiction.
We live in a time of remixes. Arguably, we live in a time that is itself a remix. Culture, history and politics all seem to repeat themselves, changed only slightly from one iteration to the next, with increasing rapidity. Whether it’s blockbuster movie sagas or wars in the Middle East, everything seems unpleasantly familiar.
“How would a zombie really decompose in Night of the Living Dead? Are there instances of shape shifting in nature like in The Wolfman? What is the science behind the night terrors that inspired the creation of Freddy Krueger? Is there scientific data supporting ghost detection like the tools used in Poltergeist? What is the psychological drive that compels cannibals like Hannibal Lecter?”
To say that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the cornerstones of modern horror is an understatement. What has been one of its enduring impacts, at least to me, is the sharp juxtaposition of what could be argued to be a family movie against almost casual brutality, tuning viewers in across the span of decades to a story of fear that feels timeless at its core.
We’re cheating slightly this month by starting off with four books released not in November but on Halloween, which is close enough for us and it’d be a real shame not to highlight them. Blame publishers for thinking 31 October is a great date to release books. As always, this is not an exhaustive list. If you think there’s a book we’ve caused grave injustice to by leaving off, leave a comment or get in touch.
Born in Greece, raised in Ireland, educated in England, and a writing career forged in America – perhaps it is Lafcadio Hearn’s lack of a permanent home that resulted in his openness towards and interest in other cultures. If we look back on Hearn’s career and works, it is a recording of folklore and local customs that stands out most clearly.