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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ghost Stories with a Difference

Ghost stories with a difference

The Ghosts of Kerfol, by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick Press)

In the store where I bought it, this handsomely produced little hardback was classified as a novel for children. Nothing could be farther from the mark. The Ghosts of Kerfol is an engrossing, evocative, well-written collection of short stories – that I would never give to a child to read.

Or maybe standards have changed since I bought books for my own progeny. I know it would have given me nightmares as a child, and am pretty sure that the son who was addicted to cowering behind the settee while he watched Dr Who would have been scared, too. For adults and young adults, however, it is heartily recommended.

It is also very clever. The author confesses in a note that she is inspired by her favourite ghost story, Edith Wharton’s “Kerfol”. This is the chilling tale of a beautiful young Frenchwoman, Anne de Barrigan, who was convicted of murdering her brutally jealous elderly husband, Yves de Cornault, who was found mauled to death by dogs . . . though there were no dogs on his estate, named Kerfol.

Noyes sets a series of short stories at Kerfol, playing fancifully with the original characters, portrayed as ghosts in all but the first, and progressing forward in time. The first is told from the point of view of Anne’s sympathetic maid, Perrette, and then the tales move on through the eyes of a young artist tortured by memories of the French Revolution, a hard-drinking party girl of Prohibition years, a young American couple on their OE, and a profoundly deaf restorer of old gardens.

Though very different people, in different times and circumstances, they are linked by the ghostly revival of long-dead passions, and the continuing evolution of dreadful events of the distant past.  A collection to be kept, re-read, thought about deeply, and remembered.

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