Literary Refrigeration

THE GHOST BOOK. Edited by Cynthia Askwith. Scribners

THIS is no book for the winter season, nor is it well adapted to the needs of any normal spring. It is distinctly summer fiction, though not necessarily in the derogatory sense of being frivolous, and it should prove especially effective on torrid, breathless nights. It is a veritable literary frigidaire, capable of furnishing the nervous reader with exactly 16 different kinds of cold-chills-down-the-back. Very sensitive people should not venture to read the book by night, even in late July, without having a fur coat near at hand; and those who have ill-fitted false teeth should remove them before reading.

For here 16 of the leading literary conjurors of England have entered into a conspiracy of horror. Ghosts! Sixteen of them, and each a little more gruesome than the other, if that be scientifically possible. It does not matter how wide your acquaintance among ghosts may be. Here you are almost sure to find some you have never had the pleasure of meeting before. It is doubtful if even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has met them all.

May Sinclair contributes the first shiver in a tale called “The Villa Desiree.” It seems that a certain young, beautiful and sensitive Mrs. Carson died horribly on her wedding night shortly before the appearance of the bridegroom, Louis. The cause of her death was unexplained until one Mildred, who tells the story, slept in the same room shortly before the day set for her marriage with the same Louis. The young Mrs. Carson had seen something. Mildred saw it too, and as a result she immediately broke off the engagement. To tell what she saw would be unfair, but it was certainly something sufficiently horrible.

It must not be supposed that all the chills here offered are wholly unpleasant. There is one yarn called “The Amorous Ghost” that is amusing as well as cooling. It is concerned with the nocturnal experiences of an estimable citizen who, having gone to bed early, was drowsily aware that his wife had come in, undressed and gotten into bed. Evidently she was very cold, for it seemed that an icy wind was blowing under the covers. Imagine the gentleman’s state of mind when, an hour or two later, his wife actually did come in! Golly! That one calls for a hot water bottle at the base of the spine!

The conspirators in horror are as follows: Hugh Walpole, May Sinclair, Walter de la Mare, Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes, Charles Whibley, D. H. Lawrence, L. P. Hartley, Enid Bagnold, Algernon Blackwood, Oliver Onions, Desmond McCarthy, Arthur Machen, Denis Mackall and Mary Webb. None of the tales has ever been published before.