Today I want to talk to you about Ghost Story, a novel by Peter Straub. The book was published in 1979 by Coward, McCann and Geoghegan and was turned into a film in 1981. Today we will be talking about the novel, not the film.
I’ve been struggling to write this blog for a while as I find it tricky to express what it is I liked about this story. I also think its one of those ones that is best experienced first hand rather than second hand after having everything spoiled by me in a review. So, with that in mind, this will be brief.
As I said above this is a difficult story to summarise as I really don’t want to spoil it, so I will be brief.
The story is told by five men, all of whom are lifelong friends, Frederick “Ricky” Hawthorne, Sears James, Lawrence Benedikt, John Jaffrey, and Edward Wanderley, who has been dead for one year. They have dubbed their little group the Chowder Society and meet every so often to tell ghost stories.
However, since Edward’s death they have all been suffering from nightmares and fear that their own sordid past is coming to get them. They write to Edwards nephew, Donald, for aid. Donald arrives and tells his own story of a broken relationship and a suspected murder which he cannot prove.
The chowder society reveal their past, a story of Eva Galli, a beautiful woman, who met an untimely fate. Don suspects that she was a shapeshifter and has returned for revenge.
This was a lot of fun. There is a lot going on and these events take place against a very real and atmospheric setting with wonderful characters with depth and growth. The character development in this story is well paced and believable, with no sudden out of character moments or shifts.
The plot is well constructed, though the story is told through short chapters that tend to jump about a bit, with different characters etc. This can be a little confusing when you start reading and are trying to get to grips with who everyone is and what they are like but it’s worth pushing on with as once you’ve got the characters down pat it’s a fascinating and engaging story. There were moments when I was able to guess what was going to happen but overall I found the plot to be well structured and not predictable.
It’s no secret that one of my all time favourite horror writers is Stephen King and this story kept putting me in mind of King and I found myself drawing comparisons, both in writing style and in sheer craftsmanship. So, high praise from me.
The horror elements in this book are numerous, there is the traditional supernatural horror elements such as ghosts, werewolves, and vampires, but the most pervasive element is the dread felt by the main characters when they fear their past coming to meet them and the consequences therein. So the book builds on fear of monsters as well as instinctive and societal fears.
The atmosphere is twisting, incorporating elements of classical horror, mostly through the monster stories, and Thriller horror through he psychological fear the chowder society feel when their number start meeting unfortunate ends.
The stakes in the book are well managed, there is naturally the survival stake, the chowder society are effectively being picked off and want to survive. But then we have the mystery stake, where we have to figure out what’s happening and why, which is slowly uncovered through the various story’s within the story.