Happy Hallowe'en!

Happy Hallowe’en!

“When I was thirteen years old, my greatest wish was to see a Hand of Glory.”

If you’ve ever spoken to be for more than twenty seconds about Harry Potter (or even just read my About Me page), you will by now know that I am a Gryffindor. Most of the traits associated with the house are true about me. I’m occasionally self-righteous, can be arrogant, have a history of being short-tempered and am not a huge fan of authority, but Gryffindors are most well known for their bravery.

And that appears to be the one trait I’m missing.

With Halloween fast approaching, I felt it was time to get stuck into a horror book, despite my skittishness and fear of everything. However, I figured, “How scary can a book actually be? It’s just words on a page!” Turns out I didn’t count on the power of Jeremy Dyson and The Haunted Book.

If Dyson’s name is familiar to you at all, it might be because he was one of the creators of The League of Gentlemen, which should’ve been my first hint that something was untoward with this book. It opens with him talking about his love of spooks and spectres, and then being approached by a journalist called Aiden Fox who has some ghost stories that he wants turned into proper narratives for a book he has an idea for. He’s no fiction writer himself, though, so Dyson is asked to expand on the stories and give them (ironically) some life. Excited, Dyson sets about his task.

And so we’re told about a house, a beach, a recording studio and, staple of the genre, a mental asylum that all have something strange occuring around them. And as the author travels the country looking for clues, he begins to feel that he himself is being followed by something, and he begins to see strange things happening. At what he presumed would be an abandoned cottage, he is handed a book by an old man, and The Haunted Book becomes This Book Is Haunted, a different text entirely. And so the pattern continues.

As you fall deeper and deeper through layers of texts, each seeming to be connected by a particular ghost that haunts them all (each author appears to see the same one at various points), the book becomes more and more horrific. The stories themselves are nothing special, no creepier than others I’ve heard, but there’s something sinister about the tone and I think a big part of that comes from the fact that the line between fiction and reality is so blurred.

Clearly it’s fiction – clearly – and there are two reasons for that. The first is that ghosts don’t exist. And the second is that the book becomes other books later on. Oh, and thirdly (three reasons), it was in the fiction section of the bookshop when I bought it. However, something lingers. The places all seem to be real, some of the people may have actually existed, and Google brings up a few references that make one doubt the fictionality of the piece.

Without a doubt, this is one of the scariest books I have ever read. I am not a brave person, as I said, but to resort to hiding under a cushion in the middle of the afternoon, scared to look in a mirror and convinced that every single click, bang and thump of the plumbing is a spirit seemed to be a normal reaction to the stories herein. My skin prickled every few pages, as characters leapt from the text bringing their ghosts with them. And that’s to say nothing about the final few pages where the process becomes curiously reversed and you yourself are dragged heart-thumpingly realistically into the text.

If you want a bit of a scare, and want to go searching for abandoned amusement parks that don’t exist, and creatures living in forgotten corners of mental asylums, then be my guest and read this book, but it is not for the faint-hearted. And if you ever see a small figure sitting, watching you, brown hair falling across its face and wearing a tan coat, for gods sake turn around and don’t look behind you. It won’t be there if you do.

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone.