It hadn't been my intention to take part in any of the gothic challenges and events taking place this month. There were especially two that I liked that I had to force myself to keep out of considering time constraints and my not knowing how things will be during the second half of October. However, Jean at Howling Frog Books, who has gone Gothic in October is hosting a month long read-along of M R James ghostly short stories wherein participants read one assigned short story each day and hop in over at her blog to discuss them.
I had never heard of James until Jean announced the event. Like I mentioned above, I had had no intention of being a part of it. But now, I think, I just might read along with a few stories. I think I can manage it well enough up until the 10th or twelfth of this month. Ten out of thirty-one can't be too bad, can it?
I've decided to use this very post to summarise and note down my reaction to the short stories I manage to read this month along with the dates in which the read-along was done. If you'd like to join just hop on over to the blog where it is happening and take part! I've also decided to count these readings towards the October Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy.
1 October — “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book” (online text)
Today's story is a short narrative (and James' first short story as Jean has pointed out) about an English gentleman who visits the chapel of St Bertrand de Cumminges along with a rather nervous looking sacristan as guide. A couple of odd things happen till it is time to leave. The sacristan, seeing that the Englishman is interested in art, history and books invites him over to his place where the mystery of the little man's odd behaviour begins to unfold.
While I did not find this story particularly creepy or even eerie, I thought it was well told. There is, however, much left to the reader to imagine…gaps that need to be filled by the reader's sense of reasoning and creativity with what the writer has given out. I cannot say that I have been hooked by this story. But I am interested in reading James further. Let's see what tomorrow's short story brings us!
2 October — “Lost Hearts” (online text)
Stephen Elliot is an orphan whose 'fortune' changes when his elderly cousin, Abney, decides to house him. However, strange things are up with cousin Abney and his house. The only normal person seems to be the housekeeper who begins to dote on Stephen. Stephen learns that his cousin has always had a kindness towards lost, young souls but has sadly been repaid only by their disappearances. Of course, we learn why by the end of this story.
Hmmm…I'm not quite sure what to say about this one. There seemed to be something lacking in this particular piece. While I am always relieved that a scary story does not turn out as scary as you thought it might, one does feel that the piece does not achieve its purpose if it does not manage to creep you out…just a wee bit. On the whole, I felt this story was extremely predictable. Right from Abney's first greeting of Stephen and the tale of the two children expounded by the housekeeper I knew what the end was going to be which completely got rid of the element of suspense. Will have to see how tomorrow's story pans out.
3 October — “The Mezzotint” (online text)
Today's story is about a mezzotint of a house that is sent to a museum curator by the name of Williams. Williams is not much impressed with the rather rough looking sketch of a manor whose identity is not even clear. But as the evening progresses and different people take a look at the mezzotint strange things are observed as the pictures seems to take on a life of its own.
I am beginning to get used to James' style and the fact that his ghost stories are not as scarily narrated as they could be. This particular one's narrative seemed quite watered down since it is told by someone who knows someone who knows the curator who narrated his strange experience with this unusual mezzotint. However, it was very interesting, and unlike the previous story, I was unable to guess what was to happen next.
4 & 5 October — 'The Ash Tree' and 'Room 13'
I wish I could summarise these for you folk as I did the first three, but I really don't feel upto it. For one thing, after all my complaining that James wasn't scary at all, I got a little freaked out by these. Secondly, my mind is a bit hazy right now to put the story facts together. However, I can say this, after getting used to James' reporting style and imagining an oral rendition of his ghost stories, they become quite effective. I see that James' demons/ghosts are all hairy armed creatures. Spiders or spider-like maybe?
I've decided to stop with M R James at this point. In three more days we're expecting the newest addition to our family, and I'm in no mood for darkness and horror. I'm more in the mood for fluff and good will stories. Perhaps, sometime next year, I'll continue with these stories.
So, I'm done with this read-along. I'd intended reading the first 10 stories, but I've decided to stop at 5.