Book Review: The Haunted Book by Jeremy Dyson

I read this book in the week before Halloween, and I think it was the perfect time to read it. The onset of longer nights and a good scary book to make you want to stay curled up inside. I work in a building that is supposedly haunted and after reading The Haunted Book I did not relish being the first into work on a dark pre-clock change October morning. But don’t let that put you off…

Jeremy Dyson’s latest, The Haunted Book, is billed as fiction/non-fiction. The book begins as a series of stories about paranormal phenomena, strung together by the recollections and thoughts of Dyson who loved reading haunted and ghoulish tales when he was younger. It becomes a book within a book within a book that eventually shrouds you in blackness as you become part of the story. Intrigued?

I don’t want to go into too much detail about what unfolds as I think that is part of the bewitchment of this book. Instead, I’d like to highlight a few of my favourite stories and passages from the book.

The stories pan from the modern day to the 19th century, going further and further back in time. Jeremy Dyson was contacted by columnist Aiden Fox who had compiled short stories on the supernatural and wanted to make them into a book. Dyson is intrigued and goes to visit these ‘haunted’ sites, retelling the stories and adding notes on his own experiences in the locations. The book opens with the story of a young self-proclaimed ladies’ man who moves into a new house and is plagued by an old ’30s Bakelite phone; this is followed by the tale of a sailor lost at sea and its connection with a man seen walking along a beach on the west coast of England; the next story, that of strange occurrences in a recording studio resonated with me, probably because I have been that person, alone in a room with headphones and distant voices coming through headphones. It is a strange feeling of isolation.

I also found it really interesting, Dyson’s discussion on the survival advantages of seeing, or indeed imagining, paranormal activity and particularly when he relates Professor Richard Wiseman’s thoughts that ‘evolution has left us all with a genetic predisposition to see faces in dark places, particularly when we are alone (and thus potentially more vulnerable)‘ to engage the fight or flight response. However, Dyson follows this by saying that despite his habit of rationalising when he is faced with something spooky, ‘the experience of visiting these supposedly haunted places, deliberately allowing them to make play with my imagination, seemed to be challenging [his] hard-won equilibrium‘. I don’t know what my own beliefs on ghosts are, I usually tend to err on the side of science so it was nice to have some kind of scientific explanation to ponder when it comes to ghoulies and otherworldly occurrences.

I think the story that has stayed with me the most since I finished The Haunted Book is that of the librarian who has recently moved to work as Chief Librarian in a city library. He hears noises and sees faces in the glass of the bookcases. It is spooky and it’s probably because it takes place in a library that I loved it so much – there’s something about the atmosphere of an old library, all of that hidden knowledge and experience inside the books and the histories of all of the people who have read them or visited the library over the years. Sends shivers down my spine.

There’s a really eerie video to go alongside this book which you can watch on canongate.tv. Not for the faint-hearted!

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