Continuing on (and featuring another of the covers that this collection has been published with) ...
(Please know that there might be minor SPOILERS in this post.)
First, I would like to say that I did, in fact, go back and read The Fairy Reel out loud this week and it made a difference. I understood it a bit better and now I want to listen to Neil himself read it as well.
THE HIDDEN CHAMBER
And I also read The Hidden Chamber out loud and I still didn't entirely understand it. Originally I didn't really remember the tale of Bluebeard though. And then I went and looked up the Bluebeard story and it made a lot of things clearer once I remembered what it was about. The ghosts are the Bluebeard character's previous wives and the piece is addressed to the current (and final?) one. It's strange to have such a violent man speaking with such a calm and rational voice -- even setting free a butterfly that has strayed into the house. But then you realize that it's not a calm voice but a cold and creepy one. And that he actually tells the woman that it would be best if she ran before ... well ... ::cue finger across the throat motion::
FORBIDDEN BRIDES OF THE FACELESS SLAVES IN THE SECRET HOUSE OF THE NIGHT OF DREAD DESIRE
I think I was tricked by this story again. You start by reading the writings of a somewhat shoddy author who seems to have an incredibly over-active imagination and who writes mainly in clichés of the horror genre. Then you see the author's own life interspersed -- and it's a life of clichés and ridiculously horrifying happenings! This was one of Neil's early stories, one that was tucked away in the attic for years. Should it have stayed in the attic? I don't think so. Though it's not a brilliant gem, it's amusing and is just the slightest bit thought-provoking. And I smiled a bit when the fictional author mentioned the novel I am currently still reading, The Mysteries of Udolpho (seriously, it's been over two weeks and I'm barely a third through). If this sort of novel is his reality, I truly feel for him! And, oh, the Poe! There are at least a couple of references to different Poe pieces in the story. Yay! My Poe Fridays have finally paid off.
THE FLINTS OF MEMORY LANE
In the introduction, Neil tells us that this story "had the unsatisfying advantage of being perfectly true". I think it's perfectly satisfying because I don't believe a story needs any length or depth to be affecting, only a sense of personality and tangibility. And this, his true ghostly encounter, is a moment that he relates perfectly, that sends cold tingly sensations down your arms and spine. Are there many things creepier than a malevolent gypsy apparition?
This is another ghost story that is told in the first person. I have to admit that, just like the first time I read it, I came out of it not quite knowing what happened. Who was the storyteller? Why did he draw a door with a red knocker? What exactly happened to the old man and his brothers? What was the deal with their father and his devilish "playhouse"? How could they be ghosts when he, at least, was still alive many years later? I'm hoping that someone else really understood this one because I just can't wrap my brain around it! It's very atmospheric and spooky but also a bit unsatisfying -- like some of the story was missing. I do feel a bit better, though, knowing that Neil kind of feels the same way (from his web journal, March 2003) --
"Michael Chabon's McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales is out in the shops as well. I'm less happy with "Closing Time", which is a ghost story, perhaps, about childhood. It's not a bad story, but it does, on rereading, feel more like a preliminary sketch for something, rather than the thing itself."Heading home after last call,