From Edgar Allen Poe to Kelly Link, M.R. James to Neil Gaiman, H. H. Munro to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly reveals the evolution of the ghost story genre with tales going back to the eighteenth century and into the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic Horror to Victorian, with a particular bent toward stories about haunting—haunted children, animals, houses. Every story is introduced by Audrey Niffenegger, an acclaimed master of the craft, with some words on its background and why she chose to include it. Niffenegger’s own story is, “A Secret Life With Cats.”
Perfect for the classic and contemporary ghost story aficionado, this is a delightful volume, beautifully illustrated. Ghostly showcases the best of the best in the field, including Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, A.S. Byatt, Ray Bradbury, and so many more.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 13, 1963
Place of Birth:South Haven, Michigan
Education:B.F.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1985; M.F.A., Northwestern University, 1991
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Ghostly includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Edited, illustrated, and introduced by the bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, this is a unique and haunting anthology of some of the best ghost stories ever written. From Edgar Allan Poe to Kelly Link, Edith Wharton to Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury to Audrey Niffenegger herself, Ghostly spans from the nineteenth century to the modern era, ranging across styles from Gothic horror to Victorian sentiment, with a particular appreciation for haunting—haunted children, lovers, pets, homes. Each story, introduced by Niffenegger, has been chosen with an eye for the deliciously uncanny.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In her introduction, Niffenegger says, “Dead is the most alone you can be” (p. vii). Why is aloneness so central to ghost stories?
2. What makes “houses, lovers, children, cats,” these “things that are frequently haunted” (p. viii), so ripe for possession?
3. Which cat or group of cats is most terrifying in this collection—Poe’s black cat (p. 3) or Niffenegger’s basement cats (p. 21)? Which do you sympathize with the most?
4. In “The Beckoning Fair One,” Paul Oleron thinks that “each of us knows that point beyond which we stand alone” (p. 105), and he prides himself on having more discernment than Elsie Bengough, though this is arguable. Why does he shut Elsie out, essentially choosing to be alone?
5. Consider “Honeysuckle Cottage” (p. 205) from Rose Maynard’s point of view. Is it a romance? A tragedy? Is William a hero or a villain in Rose’s version?
6. Think back: When did you first suspect the boy in “Click-Clack the Rattelbag” (p. 241)? Did he sneak up on you, too?
7. The man in “The July Ghost” (p. 323) says, “Please, let me go. What are we, in this house? A man and a woman and a child, and none of us can get through. You can’t want that?” and then the boy smiles, closing the story (pp. 345–46). Do you think the man stays, or does he leave?
8. “Nerves” often plague characters in gothic stories, and we see them at play in “The Open Window” (p. 359) and “Playmates” (p. 285). How do the affects of these nervous conditions on Mr. Nuttel and Stephen Everton play into each man’s reaction to the (seemingly) supernatural?
9. Twins are never alone, in a way, yet they often appear in ghost stories, as they do in “The Specialist’s Hat” (p. 367). Babysitters, too, tend to pop up in horror, seen here in both “The Specialist’s Hat” and “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” Why are twins and babysitters so popular in scary tales?
10. Why is Jane Eyre Angie’s favorite book in “Tiny Ghosts” (p. 389)?
11. Niffenegger says, “Perhaps this is not a ghost story at all, but I like to think it is” of Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” (p. 441). Do you think it is? How so?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the film Rebecca, starring Joan Fontaine and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and compare it to Edith Wharton’s “The Pomegranate Seed.” How are Charlotte Ashby and Mrs. de Winter alike? Where do they differ?
2. Niffenegger writes that she enjoys reading “The Mezzotint” by M. R. James (p. 185) aloud to her students. Host a book club challenge: each member chooses a favorite ghost story, from this collection or elsewhere, and reads it aloud. Don’t be shy; extra credit for dramatic voice performances and the giving of shivers.
3. Read M. R. James’s essay “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories” from the December 1929 issue of The Bookman. James asserts that a ghost story must have five elements: the pretense of truth; a “pleasing terror”; no gratuitous violence, bloodshed, or sex; it allows “us to be just a little in the dark as to the working of [its] machinery”; and is set in the “writer’s own day.” Discuss these elements. Are there any you would add or remove for a successful ghost story? Where are they present in the stories in Ghostly?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ghostly is an anthology of 16 ghost stories, edited, introduced and illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger. In the introduction, the author says the stories are about “haunted houses, lovers, children and cats”, and this about sums up the subject of the tales in this book. My favorite is “Honeysuckle Cottage” by P.G. Wodehouse where a mystery writer inherits a house from his aunt, a romance author, and strange things straight out of a romance novel start to happen. I didn’t know that ghost stories could be funny, and this tale is an excellent illustration of that. I also really enjoyed “Pomegranate Seed” by Edith Wharton where a woman who has just married a widower is worried about strange letters arriving for her husband. Audrey Niffenegger’s own story, “Secret Life With Cats”, is about a woman who volunteers at a cat shelter where she meets an old lady she becomes friends with. It’s only in the last few pages that ghosts appear. The author also provided black and white illustrations at the start of each story, and they are a nice addition to the book. Some of the tales in Ghostly are really short — “The Open Window” by Saki is only 6 pages long — while others are longer. Some are relatively old — “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe was published in 1843 — while others are more recent — “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” by Neil Gaiman first appeared in 2012. However, none of the tales in this book are gory. They are chilling though. My advice: don’t read them on a dark and stormy night… Ghostly was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. Please go to my blog, Cecile Sune - Bookobsessed, if you would like to read more reviews or discover fun facts about books and authors.
This collection of ghost stories assembled and introduced by Audrey Niffenegger is a delight. Tales run the gamut from Poe’s macabre masterpiece, “The Black Cat,” to Amy Giacalone’s laugh-out-loud, “Tiny Ghosts” and PG Wodehouse’s, “Honeysuckle Cottage.” A seemingly disproportionate number of the stories have protagonists who happen to be writers. Difficult to say if this was intentional on Niffenegger’s part. Perhaps writers are more likely to be haunted? Reader beware: Ghostly is more a survey of fine ghost tales than an anthology of scary stories. Still, there is plenty here to lift the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck. Given modern technology and today’s political climate, Ray Bradbury’s post-apocalyptic, “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains,” made my blood run cold. Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for the opportunity to read and review this title.