Cantos: A New Directions Blog

How to tell a ghost story

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1. Find a haunted ravine or mystical evil eye.. Investigate.

In Gustaw Herling’s collection, The Noonday Cemetery, the narrators stumble upon unexplainable phenomena. In “Don Ildebrando,” the iettatura–the evil charm or eye–haunts a retired surgeon determined to master its power and discover its history. The story is gothic and abandoned, and involves a painting come-to-life. In the title story, the narrator stumbles upon a neglected cemetery with a haunted ravine and boarded-up cemetery keeper’s home. He’s determined to discover the story behind this, as well as the events from years before, but the townspeople, afraid of retribution, refuse to discuss it.

“The Noonday Cemetery” is available to read in its entirety below.

2. Start hanging out with ghosts

In Ghosts by César Aira, a slim gray book, an immigrant worker’s family shares an unfinished apartment building with a group of ghosts. At first, the ghosts slip in and out of the narration as they slip in and out of their lives – barely noticeable, nearly transparent, hanging out in the background.

The ghosts are catalysts. They promise something more, an existence beyond and better than the one lived out on the roof of the building, at the edge of an unfilled pool.

The more daughter Patrí lingers around the ghosts, the less interest she feels in her family, their drinking, and their toasts.

3. Die at the hand of a friend or lover…

…and then “live” to tell the tale. The narrator of “When I was Mortal,” the title story in Javier Marias’ collection, returns as a ghost with a renewed consciousness: “I not only remember what I saw and heard and knew when I was mortal, but I remember it in its entirety, that is, including what I did not see or know or hear, even things that were beyond my grasp, but which affected me or those who were important to me, and which possibly had a hand in shaping me.” The life he thought he knew and understood is broken when he is able to see the details in full relief.

Another murdered ghost returns in Muriel Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” the final story in her collection, Ghost Stories.

“I did not altogether depart this world. There are those odd things still to be done which one’s executors can never do properly. Papers to be looked over, even after the executors have torn them up. Lots of business.”

Even in the afterlife, the ghost is just as spry and witty and noncommittal as she was alive. She doesn’t much care about the man who killed her…but she still enjoys bothering him.

“The Portobello Road” and “When I Was Mortal” are available to read in their entirety below.

The Noonday Cemetery by Gustaw Herling

The Portobello Road by Muriel Spark

When I Was Mortal by Javier Marias

–posted by Kelsey Ford

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Written by New Directions

October 23, 2009 at 5:51 pm

One Response

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  1. Don’t forget’ The Woman In Black’ Susan Hill.

    e6n1

    February 3, 2010 at 8:32 pm


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