On Our Bookshelves – Ghostly (2015)


BOOK: Ghostly





I’m not at all sure why I decided to read a collection of ghost stories in the middle of summer.  Everyone knows that you either wait until October for the spooky stuff, or you do the Victorian thing and enjoy them at Christmastime.  But for some reason, Ghostly called to me off-season, and I have to say that I rather enjoyed it.


It’s hard to have exactly the same taste as any anthologist, and admittedly, I didn’t love all of the stories here.  But overall, there were more hits than misses, and I appreciated the range of Audrey Niffenegger’s taste.  The ghost story transcends genres and moods, as this collection effectively demonstrates.


I’ve read “The Black Cat” dozens of times before (it’s a classic by Edgar Allan Poe), but it fits in well with the theme here, which, from the introduction, involves “Houses, lovers, children, cats: things that are frequently haunted.” 

I found Ms. Niffenegger’s own “Secret Life, With Cats,” a story about friendship, loneliness, and cats, rather unsettling.

I had no idea that Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories, but her “Pomegranate Seed” is very good.  (I’ve always found her a little more accessible than her contemporary and friend, Henry James, but fans of The Turn of the Screw might like this take on the supernatural.) 

“The Beckoning Fair One” (novella-length, by Oliver Onions) is a convincing description of either a haunting or a complete mental breakdown–disturbing and effective, regardless.

“The Mezzotint” by M.R. James is a creepy little tale, with a hint of humor.

I hadn’t ever thought before of humorous ghost stories, but the very next one in the anthology, “Honeysuckle Cottage” is actually laugh-out-loud funny.  (I’m not generally a P.G Wodehouse fan, but this is perhaps my favorite of what I’ve read by him; and the author himself considered it one of his best.)

The collection next takes a turn for the more alarming with “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman–short, clever, extremely well-executed, and with a frustratingly (or satisfyingly, depending on your taste for ambiguity) open ending.

Rudyard Kipling’s “They” is dreamy, melancholy, and personal, relating strongly to his own loss of a daughter. (I hadn’t been aware that he wrote any ghost stories, either.  The supernatural apparently runs through a very wide swath of English and American literature.) 

“Playmates” by A.M. Burrage is another melancholy tale of loneliness, grief, and resilience, as is A.S. Byatt’s “The July Boy.” These stories aren’t remotely frightening, and the ghosts aren’t threatening; they’re just atmospheric and sad.

I’ve always loved Saki’s short stories–the ones included here, “Laura,” and “The Open Window,” both from his collection Beasts and Super-Beasts, are two of his twisted best, and utter masterpieces of the form.  (If you appreciate wit, brevity, and sardonic takes on Edwardian life, read more of his work. It’s really, really good.)

In Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” the mood again turns toward the chilling and mysterious–I found the story somewhat baffling and the atmosphere creepy…and, that was likely the author’s intention. 

In “Tiny Ghosts” by Amy Giacalone, there’s another abrupt shift–the tone is somehow both pedestrian and comical, and the ghosts here are rude annoyances.  I suspect I’d have a good time if I met the author.  (Ms. Giacalone, if by some chance you read this, please get in touch…I think we’d have fun together!)

I had encountered “The Pink House” by Rebecca Curtis before, when it had been published in The New Yorker.  This one is quite memorable, or at least, I found it so.  Both the uncanny ghost story in a modern setting, and the dysfunction of the protagonist and her family were exceedingly well done in disturbing specificity, with hints (at least, I think there were hints) of unexpressed, unacknowledged past trauma. (There are more frightening things than ghosts in this world, alas.)

The collection closes with another classic, perhaps not strictly a ghost story at all (but Ms. Niffenegger creatively describes it as “the ghost of a house and the ghost of a civilization”).  “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury is elegiac, and perhaps the most frightening tale of all, at least in an existential way.


Read this one as your moods strike you–you can choose whether you want your ghost stories funny, sad, or unnerving, set in the past, or in the present day. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and the creativity to be found in this collection.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 Whistles




Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and two cockatiels. Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com


Book Cover and Book Cover Image Courtesy of Simon & Schuster



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A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

A Wandering Eye: Travels with My Phone, Miguel Flores-Vianna

After the Fall, Dan Santat

Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

An Almond for a Parrot, Wray Delaney

An English Murder, Cyril Hare

An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Anne Of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Arthur & George, Julian Barnes

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Carols and Chaos, Cindy Ansty

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cheaper by the Dozen, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Death in Profile, Guy Fraser-Sampson

Decorating a Room of One’s Own, Susan Harlan

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Everything Happens for a Reason–and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Frederica, Georgette Heyer

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Grey Mask, Patricia Wentworth

H is for Haiku, Sydell Rosenberg

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Hemingway Didn’t Say That, Garson O’Toole

Here is New York, E.B. White

Heretics & Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

How to Bake π–An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, Eugenia Cheng

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

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I Will Always Write Back, Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

In the Last Analysis, Amanda Cross

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron

Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook, edited and revised by Cyndi Giorgis

Kenny & the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi

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Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

Lexicon, Max Barry

Lizard Music, Daniel Pinkwater

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Loveboat, Taipei, Abigail Hing Wen

Madeleine’s Ghost, Robert Girardi

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

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Momo, Michael Ende

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

New York New York, Richard Berenholtz

Night Train to Lisbon, Pascal Mercier

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

Novel Advice, Jay Bushman

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

Once on a Time, A.A. Milne

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Sanditon, Jane Austen and Another Lady

Secrets and Lies, Selena Montgomery

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Sing and Shine On!, Nick Page

Snow, Orhan Pamuk

Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh

Sorcery and Cecelia: Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Still the Promised Land, Natwar Gandhi

Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand, Alexander Elder

Strength in What Remains: Tracy Kidder

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl

Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes, Lynn Sherr

The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Beauty in Breaking, Michele Harper

The BFG, Roald Dahl

The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace

The Book of Forgotten Authors, Christopher Fowler

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Elizabeth Coatsworth

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, Devoney Looser

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The Great Passage, Shion Miura

The Guest List, Lucy Foley

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, John Bellairs

The Hunting Party, Lucy Foley

The Ice House, Minette Walters

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Madwoman and the Roomba, Sandra Tsing Loh

The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James

The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

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The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker

The Shrinking of Treehorn, Florence Parry Heide

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin

The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Three Questions, Jon J Muth

The Translator, Nina Schuyler

The Truth About Unicorns, Bonnie Jones Reynolds

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The War on Normal People, Andrew Yang

The Weird World of Wes Beattie, John Norman Harris

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow

Touch Not the Cat, Mary Stewart

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

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Ways of Seeing, John Berger

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

What If?, Randall Munroe

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Worth a Thousand Words, Brigit Young

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff