Ghosts Lacking in Spirit

Seeing a ghost is a spooky event. A book about ghosts therefore should be a spooky affair; at least it should be captivating. A book by Peter Ackroyd about ghosts is neither; worse, it isn't even a good anthology. Even famous writers may produce a catastrophe, it seems.

Peter Ackroyd’s The English Ghost was published by Chatto & Windus. The author’s name stands for well-known quality books but this one is not one of them. While writing about ghosts opens whole vistas of possibilities, this book is a big, long, and continuous disappointment from end to end.

From the author of Hawksmoor and The House of Doctor Dee one would expect a gripping telling of ghost stories, bloodcurdling drama, and suspense. But the stories told in the book are boring without fail. Most of them aren't even interesting in the first place. The way these stories are told is nothing but bloodless, lifeless recounting of old tales without any of the Gothic horror they should exude.

Peter Ackroyd published excellent factual books about the history of London. Some of his biographies are as good as they can get. In this book, none of his research abilities shine through, no extrapolation is done; there are no answers in this book. The author even fails to ask any questions; worse, it seems that he is too incurious to imagine them being asked.

The book presents a collection 70 cases of ghost sightings. Most of them are of no interest and have no relevance whatsoever. The few well-known ones have been plowed over so often, it would still tax even a good researcher and excellent writer to spark any interest in them. Peter Ackroyd fails on all accounts to spark any kind of interest in these stories, any stories in fact. He remains rooted in sightings reported between the 17th and the 19th century with only few references to later events.

The book gives the impression that it was issued for the Halloween market without the aspiration to either inform or at least thrill. Kindly, you might suspect that Peter Ackroyd used notes he made over the years and stuck them together to make a book at the request of his publisher. Less kindly, you get the impression that he only handed those notes to the publisher which he doesn't intend to use for a better future book.

Having got rid of the notes too tired to be used in any future publication, he then proceeds to present them in the worst possible way. His disinterest in the book shows further in his refusal to apply the least bit of effort to make any deductions. He doesn't invest an ounce of brain power into questioning the stories or their contents. His presentation even is one of complete disinterest and seemingly personal boredom.

Buying the book is a waste of money and reading it a waste of time. The news content of the book is zero, and any story told in it may be found elsewhere as well. Any other publication probably tells the stories better, presents them in a more interesting way, or applies more scientific method to them. While the spine of the book shows the name of a famous author, the content is singularly spineless.