Review: The Haunting Season

4 stars

THE PLOT: ‘The Haunting Season’ is a collection of ghostly short stories by different pre-eminent authors. Each story has a wintry, gothic feel, with most of them set in Victorian times. From a woman running away from her husband to a newlywed searching for fossils on the beach to a man trying to escape his “remembering” of the future, this book is packed full of weird and wonderful stories. Written by #bookstagram favourites such as Bridget Collins, Laura Purcell and Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, many of the stories feature a haunted house and are different takes on the same trope.

RATING: I chose this book for my #ReadBetweenTheWines book club with @endofthewine because it seemed to perfectly fit the December theme. Most people liked different stories, which led to lots of heated discussions and the introduction of a celery-based shouting rota. However, I feel this book was just “good” and not “great”, which is why I’m giving it four stars (I’d be tempted by a 3.75 but people were outraged when I tried that before). Though the tales were enjoyable, they each felt very similar and extremely predictable. Indeed, I’ve forgotten several of the stories already…

GOOD BITS: My favourite stories were ‘The Eel Singers’ by Natasha Pulley and ‘Monster’ by Elizabeth Macneal. In my opinion (which was very much disagreed with by some members of the book club), they had the strongest themes and slightly more unusual / unpredictable plots. In particular, the watery descriptions of the Fens and beautiful relationship between the characters in the former stole my heart. I also enjoyed ‘The Chillingham Chair’ by Laura Purcell and ‘Confinement’ by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave because of the vivid characters and descriptive writing.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: This book doesn’t feel very fresh and exciting. Instead, it feels a bit like a collection of posh, white lady, Victorian stories about haunted houses which we’ve all heard before and know how they’re going to end. This doesn’t make it unenjoyable, but I wonder how much passion the writers had for this collection. It feels like an editor gave each writer a brief and stuck the stories together, rather than a group of writers coming together and co-creating an idea for a cohesive collection. Everything from the order of the stories to lack of range in the themes explored makes it feel a bit cobbled together.

OVERALL: As much as I wish the writers had a zoom meeting to discuss their vision for the book and the plot of each of their individual stories, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for an easy winter read. It would suit fans of any of the authors and fans of gothic, historical novels. It’s also good for a book club as people can read as many (or as few) stories as they can and you can discuss your favourites.