Like a lot of people who love Halloween, I dedicated my pleasure reading last month to scary stories.
I read Shirley Jackson's exquisite tale of psychological terror The Haunting of Hill House, Stephen Graham Jones' contemporary take on the werewolf story Mongrels, and a tale of apocalyptic horror by Brian Allen Carr called, appropriately enough, The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World. I even started listening to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on Audible, which isn't particularly scary but has lots of moody brooding.
However, the book that delivered the most thrills and chills was a collection of ghost stories anthologized by none other than Edward Gorey. Chances are you are familiar with his tiny books and morbid illustrations, and if you are a fan of this column you know I hold his first book, The Unstrung Harp, in high regard.
What makes The Haunted Looking Glass, originally published in 1959, unique is that Gorey not only chose the stories but also provided a black-and-white illustration for each selection. They all have his trademark style: black ink on white paper (with far more of the former than the latter), figures swallowed up by their surroundings, and gloomy rooms made claustrophobic by Gorey's manic crosshatching.
Much admired and widely appreciated, Gorey's work was in high demand right up until the time of his death in 2000. In 2001, The New York Review of Books reprinted The Haunted Looking Glass for his legion of fans.
As for the stories, most were new to me despite the preponderance of well-known authors: Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson and Wilkie Collins to name a few. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, ghost stories were a popular genre, especially in England where virtually all of these stories are set.
If you were a well-known writer in those days you could expect an editor to solicit you for a ghost story, and if you were a little known writer it was a good way to find an audience. It's fascinating to see what these writers do with endless variations on basically the same story: a man/couple/family moves into a house scorned by the locals only to discover they are not the only inhabitants.
Right now the story of someone who wakes up to a reality out of step with his or her expectations feels hauntingly real.