"The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
Written by William Meikle
2017, 189 pages, Fiction
Released on December 9th, 2017
My initial reaction to William Meikle’s The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror was not a particularly favourable one, however, once I figured out exactly what was really going on, I quickly lapped it up. At first glance it looks like a collection of old ghost stories written in the Victorian era, of which there are many, and is cobbled together by a hammy narrator interconnecting the stories. I have a feeling this was exactly what William Meikle wanted the unsuspecting reader to think.
When I looked down the impressive list of contributors, many all-time greats are featured, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and others, bringing the total to fourteen. After an initial browse, I then presumed most of the stories would be copyright free and easy to obtain on Kindle and that this anthology would just be a waste of my hard-earned cash. How wrong I was.
Over the years I’ve read a fair bit of Robert Louis Stevenson and particularly enjoyed some of his shorter fiction, such as the supernatural classic ‘The Bottle Imp’, and so I started with his entry ‘Wee Davie Makes a Friend’, which I had, rather surprisingly, never heard of and could find no trace of on Google. That’s the fun of it, you’ll find no trace of any of the fourteen of the featured tales on any search engine, as they are all new creations of William Meikle written in the style of these fourteen legendary authors. A pretty neat idea which is executed beautifully.
I’m by no means an expert on all the authors Meikle has fun toying with but have read enough Victorian-era ghost stories to appreciate the difficulty in producing such authentic recreations. The diversity of styles is particularly impressive; for instance, the 100% accurate reimagining of Bram Stoker is a real beauty and a personal favourite. American audiences are more certainly going to chuckle at the authors astute take on Mark Twain. On a few occasions I found myself recalling and comparing authentic works by the authors, and William Meikle’s versions hold up very well against them. Many who try this book will believe they are reading the real thing and mimicry aside, this is a high-quality collection of ghost stories and the supernatural whoever the author is or is not.
If you aren’t familiar with Tolstoy, Henry Rider Haggard and the others then you are unlikely to enjoy the book as much as those readers who have some knowledge of the originals. Younger readers, gore hounds, those who prefer a faster pace, or those who enjoy modern horror may think this type of stuff is a bit old hat. It’s not, and it really grows on you if you feel your way into the stories and atmosphere, so give it a chance. The Victorian era was a pivotal period in the development of horror fiction and William Meikle gives it the respect it deserves. If you’re a student of horror and its origins, you should do the same.
The narrator links the stories together with the concept that all the real authors hung out and met over drinks to scare each other with ghost stories in a club founded by Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle. This pastime, which was very popular in the Victorian and Edwardian period, gave birth to countless classic stories told round roaring fires. Meikle says in a brief interview on Amazon UK: “I love the idea that all these famous writers knew each other, and met for a meal, a drink, a smoke and some storytelling in an old London club / bar setting. It chimes almost exactly with my own idea of a good time.” I’m not sure if they all did know each other, but many of them certainly did. Readers will also enjoy the banter between the authors, even those who couldn’t make it (Tolstoy) because of a detour in Siberia.
To call The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror a pastiche of Victorian supernatural fiction really does not do it justice. Meikle playfully manipulates multiple styles, has sly references to real stories and has created a work which comes across as genuinely authentic. Hopefully it will entice readers back to a key period in the development of the horror story of which Meikle is obviously both very knowledgeable and a fan of. Pour yourself a drink and dive in.