As the nights grow longer and the days get colder, it’s traditionally the time of year to hunker down with a good book; and often during October and November, thoughts turn to spookier reads! Now, as I’ve said before, I’m not good with horror, and I have to be selective about ghost stories; however, I couldn’t resist when Notting Hill Editions sent a copy of their newest anthology! The book is “The Wrong Turning: Encounters with Ghosts”, introduced and edited by Stephen Johnson, and it’s a real treat from start to finish!

Stephen Johnson is a writer, composer and musician, amongst other things, and I’ve previously covered another NHE for which he’s responsible, the wonderful “How Shostakovich Changed My Mind”; so I knew I was in good hands with this anthology! The choice of authors featured is interesting, an excellent range, and the book also has an intriguing structure. Johnson provides linking commentary between each piece, teasing out connections and putting the stories in context, which really adds to the pleasure of reading as well as making you think a little differently about stories which might be familiar – an excellent way to construct an anthology.

So let’s take a little look at the contents… The book is pretty much bookended by extracts from “Wuthering Heights“, Emily Bronte’s scary gothic masterpiece, and both are chilling. In between, there are extracts and short stories which could well be familiar to the reader – “The Turn of the Screw“, “The Yellow Wallpaper“, “The Monkey’s Paw” – but are no less chilling because of that familiarity. In particular, “Wallpaper…” seems to get more and more frightening with re-reading and the ending is quite unforgettable.

However, the book also has some perhaps unexpected entries which were really rather wonderful. An extract from Tove Jansson’s “Moominpappa at Sea” features the terrifying Groke, a recurring character in the books; I came to the Moomins as an adult but I think I would have been quaking in my books if I’d read this as a child. Interestingly, this particular piece is one which seems to be telling us to face our fears – often good advice. Then there are short pieces which subvert the idea of ghostly presences, by Lang Ying and Flann o’Brien and these do lighten the mood nicely.

Because, tbh, there are times when you need to be lightened a little when reading ghost stories. I made the mistake of reading M.R. James’ “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” in bed at night which was not a good move. I know the story, of course, having seen the old BBC TV adaptation which is creepy enough. However, as always, the story was better and by exercising the reader’s imagination and ramping up the tension, this reduced me to a bit of a jelly!!! So after that I read the book in daylight….

Other authors featured are Pushkin, Ambrose Bierce and Penelope Lively; and the latter was via a particularly impressive and memorable story called “Black Dog“. I’ve long been a fan of Lively’s writing, although I’ve read mostly her children’s books; and I don’t think I’ve read any of her short stories. However, on the strength of this one I’ve been missing out. “Black Dog” is a wonderful modern counterpart to Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, dealing as it does with men’s misunderstandings of women; and the prosaic everyday setting just makes the protagonist’s experiences and behaviour even more unsettling.

“The Wrong Turn” is a really cleverly put together anthology, in the usual stunning livery from NHE. Johnson’s choices are obviously thoughtfully made, intriguingly linked, and explore all kinds of unsettling experiences – just going to show, I suppose, how easy it is to take the wrong turning and end up in a situation you really didn’t want. Whether it’s ghosts, curses, disordered states of mind or monsters, all of the scary happenings in these stories are guaranteed to send shivers down the spine – just don’t read them in the dark….. 😀