Yay for more Kim Newman! And yay for my random book-picking program giving me one more spooky novel to read before Halloween! It took me a little longer than that to finish it, but at one point on Halloween night, I was sitting in an easy chair with this book in my lap.
Like a lot of ghost stories, An English Ghost Story is about the implosive disintegration of a family. Oddly, the story doesn't start out with the perfect nuclear family; as it begins, the family is presented as an idyllic unit, but small hints are dropped here and there to suggest that life hasn't always been this easy.We only start to get a sense of what has happened in the past once the family settles into life at the Hollow.
The setup of the story was engrossing, mostly due to Newman doling out the family's history a little bit at a time. We only know what's happened in the dynamic when it's necessary for the story, but we always know that there's something important there. Since the mood of the ghosts reflect the mood of the family, as more of that history is laid bare, the ghosts become more aggressive and direct. That in turn creates stress for the family, creating a feedback loop that keeps growing until someone on one side or the other decides to break the loop.
I'm continually impressed with Newman's talents as a storyteller. When I first read Anno Dracula so many years ago, I was impressed with how he integrated most of the famous vampires into one story, but for some reason the story didn't speak to me at the time. This year, I felt differently enough about it -- and I still think The Bloody Red Baron is the best of the entire series -- and this novel reinforces that impression. He has a natural style that draws the reader in, and his knowledge of the genres he writes in are reflected in how he structures his stories.
I wanted An English Ghost Story to be more than it was. I enjoyed how he started off the story, and how he drew the parallel between the hauntings and the family dynamic (it's not original, but he creates it well), but once the story took that turn into being an actual ghost story, things became weird and surreal, to the point where it was hard for me to follow what was happening. I understood the broad points, but felt like I missed some of the details along the way.
Overall, though, a ghost story by Kim Newman is a treat. I'd recommend it to fans of his, as well as to fans of haunted house stories overall. It's not the most original haunted house story, but it does its thing well enough that it should be appreciated by fans of those stories.