Do you enjoy a good ghost story? They’re not usually my thing, but around this time of year they creep up on me whether I will or no. Like yesterday, when I found myself drawn into Michaeline’s excellent and satisfying re-telling of the story of Old Betty and Raw Head the razorback hog.
That set me to wondering what’s the best ghost story I ever read. Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing won by a mile. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is by the author of Watership Down. He wrote a number of other novels in various genres, but as far as I’m aware this is his only scary story. It may not be the most famous ghost story I’ve ever read, but it’s the one that had the most profound and lasting effect on me.
The Girl in a Swing was published in 1980 so it must be more than thirty years since I first read it, and I can still remember how it made me feel. It’s not a slam-bam horror story. There are no chainsaws or buckets of blood. It’s a story of ordinary people living normal lives in a present-day world. It’s very low-key and the pace is deliberately slow. The writing is quality, as you’d expect, and little by little, it drew me in until I was completely hooked. Richard Adams did a brilliant job of making me care about the characters, and at the end I was horrified, scared, shocked, moved and very sad.
The book is the story of Alan, a young, rather geeky English ceramics dealer. He’s introverted, highbrow and proper. On a business trip to Copenhagen he meets a beautiful, brilliant but impoverished German woman called Karin (or in some versions, Kathe). They meet, they connect, they marry and embark on an intense, erotic, and obsessive relationship. Karin is almost too good to be true, but her background is shrouded in mystery. Alan has a degree of psychic sensitivity, and as hints are given and small mysteries accumulate, the tension builds and builds until the eventual, terrible, tragic denouement seems almost inevitable.
If you’re up for a quality ghost story this Halloween, I strongly recommend this one.
Click here for the link to Amazon, but fair warning, the reviews are sprinkled with spoilers.
What’s the best ghost story you ever read?