Friday, August 10, 2012

The English Ghost - Peter Ackroyd

The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time
Peter Ackroyd
Vintage Books
Copyright: October 31, 2011

The product description:
An enormously enjoyable spooky collection of ghost-sightings over the centuries, full of the spirit of place, in true Ackroyd style.

The English, Peter Ackroyd tells us in this fascinating collection, see more ghosts than any other nation. Each region has its own particular spirits, from the Celtic ghosts of Cornwall to the dobies and boggarts of the north. Some speak and some are silent, some smell of old leather, others of fragrant thyme. From medieval times to today stories have been told and apparitions seen -- ghosts who avenge injustice, souls who long for peace, spooks who just want to have fun.

The English Ghost is a treasury of such sightings which we can believe or not, as we will. The accounts, packed with eerie detail, range from the door-slamming, shrieking ghost of Hinton Manor in the 1760s and the moaning child that terrified Wordsworth's nephew at Cambridge, to the headless bear of Kidderminster, the violent daemon of Devon who tried to strangle a man with his cravat and the modern-day hitchhikers on Bluebell Hill. Comical and scary, like all good ghost stories, these curious incidents also plumb the depths of the English psyche in its yearnings for justice, freedom and love.
After reading London Under, and hearing people raving about how good his other books like The Biography of London are, I had high hopes for The English Ghost. Hopes that were, sadly, disappointed. I couldn't even finish the book.

Based on Peter Ackroyd's other books, I thought I was going to be reading perhaps a detailed account through time of a few noted haunted sites. Or, perhaps a history of ghost sightings around Englind. Well, maybe that's what The English Ghost was meant to be.

However, what I found the book to be was more or less just a collection of eighteenth and ninetheenth century accounts of ghost sightings with nothing to connect them together. Nothing about repeated accounts from the same location, nothing from Peter Ackroyd himself to tie the individual accounts together. Not at all what I was expecting.

To me, the book felt rushed, and didn't live up to the standards I expected from Peter Ackroyd. I'm afraid this one's going on the rare "abandoned" pile.

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