Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Guardian Books: Seances for Halloween

 
seance
 


Today’s blogpost appeared over at the Guardian Website books pages, and was a Halloween special, looking at the books that make your flesh creep. This is how it begins:


What kind of book do you want to settle down with over Halloween? Perhaps one with “hauntings, disturbing diary entries and [a] general air of yellowing newspaper reports”.  
That’s Philip Larkin writing about Gladys Mitchell’s When Last I Died (1941). It’s a perfect, atmospheric description of a crime novel in which a character is asked if the seances being re-examined were ever disappointing, and replies: “The seances always produced results … Tom never had what you would call a barren seance.” 

If you’re looking for a book to make your flesh creep, you can find plenty more Ouija boards, malign spirits and fortune-telling in books of the last century – and they are, of course, never barren. A seance – held in a darkened room where spirits might talk, tap out messages, or even appear – was a particularly useful standby for other great crime authors besides Mitchell.


Agatha Christie used the idea many times. In The Sittaford Mystery, the murder victim’s death is announced at a seance. The Pale Horse, meanwhile, is packed with dead cockerels, weird mediums and the voices of the dead – the kind of thing Miss Marple would describe as “not quite nice”.

seance 2


Many more blog favourites appear in the article – Hilary Mantel, Stella Gibbons, Chrissie Poulson, Sarah Waters, Christopher Priest.

Read on at the Guardian website - and please add any more ghostly ghastly moments in the comments below






15 comments:

  1. Ooh, great article, Moira! And I love the whole idea of séances in crime fiction. Christie did it beautifully, as you point out. Hmm...I may have to do a post on this..

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    1. Ooh yes, please do, I'd love to read your take on it.

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  2. How did you miss Séance by Mark McShane? Well, very easy, I'm sure. It's been out of print for a dinosaur's age. But it was the basis for the *very* different movie version (much better known) called Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Here are some very unusual treatments of mediums and séances: The Séance by John Harwood, Affinity by Sarah Waters, The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning, Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn. And for an excellent oldie but ridiculously scarce book I recommend The Ghost Girl (1913) by Henry Kitchell Webster, an American author who wrote a handful of excellent detective novels. The Ghost Girl is a one of the best novels about spiritualist debunkers. Sometimes it shows up in libraries.

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    1. I do know Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and it did go through my mind to find out where it came from, but then I had too many instances already... As ever the Guardian cut out a couple of my examples, one of which was the wonderful Rainbird Pattern, but Affinity IS in there! Thanks for the great additions to the list, I'll look them up.

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    2. Wow, you're right. I can't find "The Ghost Girl" anywhere. Not even an e-book. I'm jonesing for it now.

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    3. There's no-one like John for books no-one else has ever heard of...

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  3. I have no suggestions, I am not one to remember many details from books. But Strong Poison is fresh in my mind because I just read it and I am amazed that people can be so suggestible.

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    1. It's an interesting question isn't it - why do people want to believe so much? Because it seems they do...

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  4. I recently read a book with a FANTASTIC seance scene in it, the fourth Phryne Fisher book - Death at Victoria Dock. (I have such a bad memory for individual series titles....)

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    1. It also has an unusual combination of debunkery and an element of the inexplicable

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    2. That sounds just the job, thanks for the addition - I can find out the name of it easily enough!

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  5. I did my bit for Halloween this year - a couple of short offerings from K.A. Laity featuring her Hard-Boiled Witch were read! On a sidenote Ouija boards freak me out, as do films featuring them.

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    1. Yeah, they give me the shudders. We used to mess around with them as teenagers, but now I am aghast at our foolishness!

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  6. Who painted that wonderful picture? Can't remember - somebody unlikely?

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    1. I'm always failing to repeat the credit when I re-use a picture. 'The picture of a séance is by Vaino Kunnas, is in an art gallery in Finland, and is part of the Google Art Project' https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kunnas,_V%C3%A4in%C3%B6_-_A_spiritualistic_s%C3%A9ance_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
      I love it too - my all-time favourite séance picture. I don't know the artist for anything else, but he is Finnish and it does have that Northern look.

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