Strangely, the cover of my edition of the Ghost Book has a photo of David Cameron during his Bullingdon club days, but it’s good to see the PM has put on a bit of weight since then and has a ruddier complexion.
I’ve always enjoyed Lord Halifax’s ghost book. There’s probably a current Lord Halifax, and the one most people have heard of was Foreign Sec in the 30s and a general political bigwig. The Lord Halifax who wrote the ghost book was the poltician’s father. There’s a reasonable Wikipedia entry on him, which is chiefly devoted to detailing M’Lord’s work in Church, in which he was both active and high up. It makes perfect sense to me, therefore, that he should have been interested in ghosts. After all, wasn’t it from an Archbishop of Canterbury that Henry James heard the germ of the idea that became The Turn of the Screw ?
The book consists of accounts of hauntings that Lord Halifax collected. It seems that he was well known for having an interest in the uncanny and supernatural, and therefore some of these tales are his own versions of what had been told to him by friends and acquaintances, while others are letters that people sent to him detailing their own weird experiences. What they all have in common is that they all purport to be true encounters with ghosts and apparitions.
This makes the book a nice companion volume to have on your shelves if you like classic ghost stories, especially those from the British Isles. Like the works of Le Fanu, Jameses Henry and M.R., and so on and so on, Halifax’s tales don’t present you with a gore-fest. Instead they are often subtle tales of unsettling events in otherwise familiar surroundings. As with great ghost fiction, however, read these alone on a winter’s night, or out loud to family or friends, and the effect is chilling, thought-provoking and lingering.
One thing that a lot of us like to do is sit around from time to time and swap our own strange stories, and this book is a compendium of such tales as you might tell to your friends. As I say, they’re all understated but I think that’s the nature of events that normal people deem to be uncanny. Listen to any of the classic recordings of Art Bell’s Ghost to Ghost shows (a sort of modern counterpoint to a book like this) and you’ll know what I mean.
The introduction by the peer’s son makes it clear that Halifax’s children loved it when their father got out the ghost book to read a few tales before bedtime, and it’s that kind of work: the sort of thing you probably won’t read in a sitting, but will want to come back to again and again. With the nights quickly drawing in it’s about this time of year that I like to dip into the Ghost Book myself.
Such a shame it seems out of print. Someone is missing a trick here.