Ghost-hunting gets a gentlemanly makeover in this meticulous history of hauntings.
Clarke indulges his lifelong interest in the paranormal in this well-documented look at ghost stories and the people who have told them throughout history. As the youngest person ever to become a member of the Society for Psychical Research, the author has pursued his passion since childhood—and it shows. He covers everything in loving detail, from Victorian mobs congregating at haunted houses to Harry Price’s 1920s radio show, which helped launch modern ghost-hunting. Excerpts from letters, illustrations of experiments and many complex family trees ground in reality what could be dismissed as fantasy. Clarke’s discussions of geography also lend realism. England is the focus throughout: The English countryside, class distinctions and small-town gossip feature nearly as prominently as the ghost stories themselves. The author relates all of this information in the same smooth, careful style, presenting them truly as natural history and not necessarily as spine-tingling stories, although some are spooky enough even when viewed through Clarke’s objective lens. This objectivity cuts two ways in the narrative: The author’s open-mindedness is admirable and suitable to a work billed as a “social history,” but the attendant ambiguity saps the sense of direction sorely needed in such a detailed book. When Clarke touches on the cultural history of ghost stories—how their social classes, gender and even fashions have changed with the times—he begins to invite readers to consider the reasons behind these oft-told tales, but then he quickly changes direction. The book will be more useful as a reference than an afternoon’s entertainment, and Clarke also provides a useful index, a chronology and a reference list that will serve other paranormal researchers well.
An informative but surprisingly sedate tour of haunting’s storied past.