"An English Ghost Story" Book Review
Written by Kim Newman
2014, 313 pages, Fiction
Released on October 7th, 2014
The trouble with creating fiction is that it's nearly impossible to write a story that hasn't already been written. Although genre pieces are often rich and imaginative at their best, there is another set of parameters that defines them, which can be a further hindrance for inexperienced authors. An English Ghost Story, following the Naremore family as they move into a haunted house, is a fairly uninspired novel that doesn't present enough that is inventive or unique to make it worth reading, in spite of its occasional moments of eerie atmosphere.
As with most families at the beginning of a horror narrative, the Naremores are seeking to improve their lives and strengthen their relationships by moving to a house in the Somerset countryside. Although all seems well when they get settled into the charming and quiet home, matters escalate within no time at all, which jeopardizes the safety and sanity of the family. After discovering stories written by the prior resident, a children's author named Louise Teazle, the pressure thickens to a suffocating extent.
An English Ghost Story, in spite of being a massive case of "it's been done", does occasionally present moments of effective discomfort for the reader. In the scenes where the family reads the stories written by Teazle, there's an inherent nervy unease because of how jarring it feels. Whenever a writer takes something that is supposed to be innocent, like a children's story about a spunky little kid with a flair for adventure, and places it in a malevolent situation, it is reasonable to feel distrusting of the guised safety. Although the moments with Teazle remain quite nerve wracking, it is too fleeting to make this an entirely worthwhile read.
The dialogue in this novel is one of the weakest aspects. The conversation between the Naremores is stilted, awkward and unreflecting of what people might actually say, and feels as though Newman is trying to hit the reader over the head with quirks and humour, but ineffectually so. Occasionally writers can create wonderfully stylized conversation that only exists in the universes that they create. It does not seem as though Newman attempted to create stylized dialogue in An English Ghost Story, making it just poor instead of forgivable.
This novel is an extremely easy read in regards to syntax, and might be more suitable as an in-between book before something harder or more enveloping. It can easily be read in a few hours if someone is invested enough in the narrative. However, due to the overall weak story and, considering Newman's history, a surprising amateur-esque writing style, it is much more difficult to want to pick up An English Ghost Story and read it cover-to-cover. Stories about haunted houses can still be exciting and imaginative, but if an author is merely regurgitating every predecessor in its sub-genre, it is taxing at best.