E. F. Benson's (1867-1940) ghost and supernatural stories are marvellous jewels, that combine elegant writing with moments of blood-curdling horror. This collection comprises thirteen of his finest stories:
The Man Who Went Too Far The Horror Horn The Other Bed Gavon's Eve The Room in the Tower Ali Abdul's Grave How Fear departed from the Long Gallery The Shootings of Achnaleish The Dust-Cloud The Confession of Charles Linkworth Caterpillars At the Farmhouse The Bus-Conductor
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Those who are familiar with E.F. Benson only through his "Mapp and Lucia" series may not realize he wrote just short of five dozen supernatural stories, of which we have thirteen here.
Benson's world is very much like that of Saki. One gets the impression that, before the Great War at least, the most dreadful thing that befell these gentlemen was finding the contents of a soda siphon empty and no servant at hand to attend the disaster. It is not a world in which ghosts and spectral horrors figure prominently. But they do here, and this is what you can expect:
(1) An artist makes a summer visit to an old friend with whom he used to share a studio. Stunned by the friend's youthful appearance and serenity, he attempts to understand the way he lives in THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR.
(2) On holiday in the Engadine, an English gentleman hears the local legend of a mountain known as THE HORROR-HORN and has an experience which might put him off winter sports.
(3) During another winter visit to Switzerland, we meet a psychic waiter who may hold the key to the mystery of THE OTHER BED.
(4) GAVON'S EVE finds us heading north into Sutherlandshire toward Gavon Loch, Pictish ruins, and hauntings.
(5) THE ROOM IN THE TOWER is a story of a nightmare come true. For many years, the narrator dreamed of being shown to a room in a tower "where horror dwelt." This story of a malevolent self-portrait shows Benson at his best.
(6) When travel tales were very much in fashion, and the world not quite so small, a story like ALI ABDUL'S GRAVE and its description of black magic in Luxor might have been more exotic than it seems today.
(7) HOW FEAR DEPARTED FROM THE LONG GALLERY is a classic English ghost story which takes place in the stately residence of Church-Peveril.
(8) THE SHOOTINGS OF ACHNALEISH is another story of Sutherlandshire and, this time, of its hares.
(9) THE DUST-CLOUD is a true period piece that will interest those who are fascinated by the "machines" of the early days of "motoring."
(10) THE CONFESSION OF CHARLES LINKWORTH centers on a man condemned to death.
(11) Reading the Villa Cascana had recently been pulled down causes our narrator to reflect on events which he remembers with a special kind of horror in CATERPILLARS.
(12) AT THE FARMHOUSE finds a man desperate to rid himself of his wife.
(13) The narrator's friend Hugh tells him of a strange hallucination in THE BUS CONDUCTOR.
Sadly, with a few exceptions, these are not Benson's best stories. There is an unfortunate tendency that Benson had to tie up every loose end, as if to explain things neatly away. So as ghost stories, some of these fall flat. But as period pieces of a vanished world, they are charming and quaint.
I hope Mr. Wagland will bring us the rest of Benson's stories, including "Mrs. Amworth," "Naboth's Vineyard," and others which are scarier. He has a pleasant, calm British voice well-suited to classic stories and I enjoy him very much.