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Audio Book Review


Ghostly Terror!


Authors: M.R. James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and W.F. Harvey
Read by: Andrew Sachs, Laurel Lefkow and Stephen Pacey
RRP: £13.25
ISBN: 978 1 4084 7048 0
Available 06 October 2011

Brand new from AudioGo, on limited CD release or available to download, comes Ghostly Terror! - consisting of three classic supernatural tales split across two discs, with a total running time of 135 minutes.

Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook (read by experienced narrator and beloved Fawlty Towers actor, Andrew Sachs) tells the story of a researcher and collector of religious antiquities working late taking stone rubbings in an ancient church. A very nervous man refuses to leave him alone in the building, and is later relieved to escort him out. Through what seems like idle conversation, the nervous little man tells the researcher about a book he might want to see. The artwork and scripture is incredibly old, and the researcher is amazed to be sold the book for a ridiculously low sum of money. He is later to discover why, as the book incorporates an ancient evil.

M.R. James wrote the best literary ghost stories, bar none. He was a master storyteller, and I urge anyone who hasn’t tasted the cold eeriness of his tales to invest in a collection. You won’t be sorry. Even the BBC constantly used his stories when it came time for their annual Christmas ghost story adaptation. In fact, of the three tales on this release, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook is the most enduring simply because it’s less specific, cleverly allowing your imagination to set the atmosphere and build tension. The others, in comparison, are a little dated. Sachs quite rightly keeps his narrative on an even keel, allowing the story to raise the listener’s emotions, rather than becoming unnecessarily emotive in the telling.

The Yellow Wallpaper (read by stage and TV actress Laurel Lefkow) is the story of a sick woman confined to a rather decrepit bedroom in a rented house. There is peeling yellow wallpaper, and marks and patterns which over time seem to take on a life of their own. Eventually, she begins to fear that someone might be trying to get out. This story, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, uses the premise that if we stare at inanimate objects for long enough the mind can turn them into something else entirely. There is a part of the brain which recognises faces in objects, so the idea is definitely sound. However, although there is an attempt to build tension via the woman’s thoughts over a period of days, The Yellow Wallpaper is much too long in the telling, and has a disappointing reveal.

The Beast With Five Fingers (read by Radio, TV and stage actor Steven Pacey) is a truly classic story by W.F. Harvey, which many people will have heard of without actually knowing anything about. It tells the story - in chapter form - of a man with the talent of automatic writing who, upon his death, has the hand in question sent to a relative. But the hand has independent movement and objectives of its own, until it becomes a living nightmare. This takes up the entirety of the second disc. You could say it’s a little long, but there is much movement in the tale, and you can readily believe the near hysteria of one of the characters - convincingly portrayed by Pacey. The Beast With Five Fingers has been filmed, and since then there has been any number of similar notions which have made it to screen. The idea of a disembodied hand seems to be creepy enough to make people willingly suspend their disbelief.

More and more audio releases are being limited strictly to downloads these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to have an official, tangible product in a jewel case that I can place on a shelf or stack with other CDs - so I’m thankful that in this particular instance you are given the choice. As a casual purchase, this is probably not so important, but to a collector it might mean the difference between a sale and just not bothering.


Ty Power

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