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The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark

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I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark has said, and in these eight marvelous ghost stories she manages to do both to the highest degree. As with all matters in the hands of Dame Muriel her spooks are entirely original. A ghost in her pantheon can be plaintive or a bit vengeful, or perhaps may not even be aware of being a ghost at all. One in fact is the ghost o I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark has said, and in these eight marvelous ghost stories she manages to do both to the highest degree. As with all matters in the hands of Dame Muriel her spooks are entirely original. A ghost in her pantheon can be plaintive or a bit vengeful, or perhaps may not even be aware of being a ghost at all. One in fact is the ghost of a man who isn't even dead yet. Another takes the bus home from work, believing she is still alive, though she is haunted by an odious tune stuck in her head (which her murderer had been relentlessly humming), and distressed by a "feeling of incompletion." And a reflective ghost recalls her mortal days of enjoying "the glory of the world, as if it would never pass. Spark has a flair for confiding ghosts: "I must explain that I departed this life nearly five years ago. But I did not altogether depart this world. There were those odd things still to be done which one's executors can never do properly." In her case the odd things include cheerily hailing her murderer, "Hallo George!" and driving him mad. The remarkably nonchalant stories here include some of her most wicked and famous"The Seraph and the Zambesi," "The Hanging Judge," and "The Portobello Road"and they all gleam with that special Spark sheen, the quality The Times Literary Supplement has hailed as "gloriously witty and polished."


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I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark has said, and in these eight marvelous ghost stories she manages to do both to the highest degree. As with all matters in the hands of Dame Muriel her spooks are entirely original. A ghost in her pantheon can be plaintive or a bit vengeful, or perhaps may not even be aware of being a ghost at all. One in fact is the ghost o I aim to startle as well as please," Muriel Spark has said, and in these eight marvelous ghost stories she manages to do both to the highest degree. As with all matters in the hands of Dame Muriel her spooks are entirely original. A ghost in her pantheon can be plaintive or a bit vengeful, or perhaps may not even be aware of being a ghost at all. One in fact is the ghost of a man who isn't even dead yet. Another takes the bus home from work, believing she is still alive, though she is haunted by an odious tune stuck in her head (which her murderer had been relentlessly humming), and distressed by a "feeling of incompletion." And a reflective ghost recalls her mortal days of enjoying "the glory of the world, as if it would never pass. Spark has a flair for confiding ghosts: "I must explain that I departed this life nearly five years ago. But I did not altogether depart this world. There were those odd things still to be done which one's executors can never do properly." In her case the odd things include cheerily hailing her murderer, "Hallo George!" and driving him mad. The remarkably nonchalant stories here include some of her most wicked and famous"The Seraph and the Zambesi," "The Hanging Judge," and "The Portobello Road"and they all gleam with that special Spark sheen, the quality The Times Literary Supplement has hailed as "gloriously witty and polished."

30 review for The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    I was talking to someone about ghost stories when I realized, "Hey, I love ghost stories." Plus I'm a huge fan of Muriel Spark. These stories are short and creepy. I was talking to someone about ghost stories when I realized, "Hey, I love ghost stories." Plus I'm a huge fan of Muriel Spark. These stories are short and creepy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    This hard-to-get-hold-of New Directions paperback contains eight short stories. I had read two of these – 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' and 'The Leaf-Sweeper' – in anthologies, and found both intriguing but flawed: the former gives away its whole plot in the title, and the latter hinges on an underdeveloped concept. I was interested to explore more of Spark's ghost stories. It turns out I actually find them kind of exhausting, and reading one after another only served to highlight their most offpu This hard-to-get-hold-of New Directions paperback contains eight short stories. I had read two of these – 'The Girl I Left Behind Me' and 'The Leaf-Sweeper' – in anthologies, and found both intriguing but flawed: the former gives away its whole plot in the title, and the latter hinges on an underdeveloped concept. I was interested to explore more of Spark's ghost stories. It turns out I actually find them kind of exhausting, and reading one after another only served to highlight their most offputting features. 'The House of the Famous Poet', for instance, is a bizarre story that initially appears to be quite straightforward and then takes a sharp turn for the surreal. I should have loved it, but it felt to me like a clever idea for the sake of a clever idea, something that appears meaningful but isn't constructed with enough depth to actually be meaningful. Others, like 'The Portobello Road', are saddled with irritating characters and choppy narratives. While discomfort is surely the goal, I just couldn't get on with them. The exception, and my favourite from the collection, is the really rather shocking 'The Hanging Judge'. Nothing here matches the darkness and power of Spark's novella The Driver's Seat. Diverting, but certainly not the author's best work, and these are the type of short stories better enjoyed at intervals than read in quick succession. TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jaksen

    Eight weird little stories by a writer known to be oftimes weird. Do not expect your traditional ghost story. Do expect any one of the characters you're reading about to be already dead. Except for the very first story, which set the trend for the other seven, none of this much surprised me. Perhaps if I'd read them as they first came out, in magazines, etc., and over a longer period of time they would have entranced me, but umm... Blatant racism in one, but then I think, it's the time it was writ Eight weird little stories by a writer known to be oftimes weird. Do not expect your traditional ghost story. Do expect any one of the characters you're reading about to be already dead. Except for the very first story, which set the trend for the other seven, none of this much surprised me. Perhaps if I'd read them as they first came out, in magazines, etc., and over a longer period of time they would have entranced me, but umm... Blatant racism in one, but then I think, it's the time it was written in AND it's the characters who are racist, not necessarily the writer. Okay, I'll buy it, but the story was all over the place. Obtuse or confused narrative does not replace a good old creepy omgosh kind of ghost story, IMO. Seriously, I can't even be bothered writing a brief summation of each. They're ghost stories. They're weird. There's dead people in them. Three stars. That's enough.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Charles Dee Mitchell

    Anyone who grew up watching The Twilight Zone or remembers some of the spookier episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents will be onto the twist ending of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” within the first few pages. I was disappointed with this opening tale and thought that perhaps ghost stories were simply not Spark’s métier. But two pages into the second story, Sir Sullivan Stanley, a distinguished, elderly judge, hears the guilty verdict announced in the capital murder case he is hearing and experienc Anyone who grew up watching The Twilight Zone or remembers some of the spookier episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents will be onto the twist ending of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” within the first few pages. I was disappointed with this opening tale and thought that perhaps ghost stories were simply not Spark’s métier. But two pages into the second story, Sir Sullivan Stanley, a distinguished, elderly judge, hears the guilty verdict announced in the capital murder case he is hearing and experiences a spontaneous orgasm. We are in capable hands after all. Muriel Spark has said of her writing, “I aim to startle and to please.” In these eight ghostly tales she does just that. The settings include London during the blitz, a white enclave in Africa, and the Portobello Road. Her ghosts may be mournful or mischievous, and they intrude into the lives of the living in sometimes subtle but always unsettling ways. These polished tales hark back to a time when novelists like Edith Wharton, Henry James, and E. F. Benson turned on occasion and with great effects to the supernatural. Set them aside for a dreary winter day.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    Eight of Muriel Spark's stories, all with ghosts. The first four are all very good, (The Girl I Left Behind Me, The Hanging Judge, The Seraph and the Zambesi, The Leaf-Sweeper) but the last four are even better. (The House of the Famous Poet, Another Pair of Hands, The Executor, The Portobello Road) Spark has a way of hooking you from the first sentence. After only a few lines the story is set up, characters fully formed, and you as a reader are completely invested in the outcome. This is no sma Eight of Muriel Spark's stories, all with ghosts. The first four are all very good, (The Girl I Left Behind Me, The Hanging Judge, The Seraph and the Zambesi, The Leaf-Sweeper) but the last four are even better. (The House of the Famous Poet, Another Pair of Hands, The Executor, The Portobello Road) Spark has a way of hooking you from the first sentence. After only a few lines the story is set up, characters fully formed, and you as a reader are completely invested in the outcome. This is no small task, especially in short stories where it is of vital importance, and Spark does it so effortlessly, with wit and casual elegance. If you only read one, read The Portobello Road, but please stick around for the others. You won't regret it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Muriel Spark was my favorite 20th century author and given the competition that's saying something. Always brilliant, almost always dark and funny, there were few writers who were her intellectual equal. She did lack emotional resonance; nevertheless almost anything she wrote can be recommended. These ghost stories are a delight. Muriel Spark was my favorite 20th century author and given the competition that's saying something. Always brilliant, almost always dark and funny, there were few writers who were her intellectual equal. She did lack emotional resonance; nevertheless almost anything she wrote can be recommended. These ghost stories are a delight.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Lo

    1st and last story - my favourite.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jess Manchester

    Suspend disbelief, forget you're sophisticated, and come to the stories with fresh eyes, and you will be delighted. The timing is perfect and the pacing can teach you, if you're a writer, how to set up a shock. The other day I was listening to music and heard Phil Collins performing "Something in the air tonight," and I realized that Spark's writing reminded me, somehow, of Collins drumming. We've all heard a steady backbeat, but if you pay attention, the cadence of the beat is just a little bet Suspend disbelief, forget you're sophisticated, and come to the stories with fresh eyes, and you will be delighted. The timing is perfect and the pacing can teach you, if you're a writer, how to set up a shock. The other day I was listening to music and heard Phil Collins performing "Something in the air tonight," and I realized that Spark's writing reminded me, somehow, of Collins drumming. We've all heard a steady backbeat, but if you pay attention, the cadence of the beat is just a little better than most. So, maybe these ghost tales didn't send tingles down my spine, but they still moved me with their beauty.

  9. 5 out of 5

    William Thomas

    These are mostly fine little ghostly, and some ghastly, little numbers. I was struggling through a few of them (see "The Seraph and the Zambesi), but all collections have the filler that brings it down. The albatross stories, heavy and burdensome. Others were fairly surprising like the perverted "Hanging Judge" and the Ray Bradbury-esque "The Leaf-Sweeper. Some of them are very corny but nice in that Muriel Spark way, so I didn't mind. If you only have time for one book by her, this shouldn't be These are mostly fine little ghostly, and some ghastly, little numbers. I was struggling through a few of them (see "The Seraph and the Zambesi), but all collections have the filler that brings it down. The albatross stories, heavy and burdensome. Others were fairly surprising like the perverted "Hanging Judge" and the Ray Bradbury-esque "The Leaf-Sweeper. Some of them are very corny but nice in that Muriel Spark way, so I didn't mind. If you only have time for one book by her, this shouldn't be it, is my final word on it. Grade: C

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kati Polodna

    Now that the mornings feel like fall, it's time for some ghost stories. These aren't Stephen King ghost stories, they're much more subtle with great writing that you need to pay attention to (blink and you miss it). I enjoyed especially "The Portobello Road," "Another Pair of Hands" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me." Now that the mornings feel like fall, it's time for some ghost stories. These aren't Stephen King ghost stories, they're much more subtle with great writing that you need to pay attention to (blink and you miss it). I enjoyed especially "The Portobello Road," "Another Pair of Hands" and "The Girl I Left Behind Me."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cate

    I found the first story in this collection, "The Girl I Left Behind Me" and also "The Hanging Judge" so startling and interesting. Such a voice! I was reading along thinking, I truly do not know what is going to happen next here. This was really inspiring and thrilling. The other stories didn't hold up as well for me, but well worth reading. I found the first story in this collection, "The Girl I Left Behind Me" and also "The Hanging Judge" so startling and interesting. Such a voice! I was reading along thinking, I truly do not know what is going to happen next here. This was really inspiring and thrilling. The other stories didn't hold up as well for me, but well worth reading.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This was OK. It was my first crack at Muriel Spark, and I would read more by her as the writing itself was engaging, witty, and fun to read. I didn't find the plots of the stories in this collection overall to be particularly strong, however the first and last stories packed strong punches! This was OK. It was my first crack at Muriel Spark, and I would read more by her as the writing itself was engaging, witty, and fun to read. I didn't find the plots of the stories in this collection overall to be particularly strong, however the first and last stories packed strong punches!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Judith Squires

    Marvelous collection of short stories from a great writer. All of them eerie and extremely entertaining. I've only read one of her novels, "A Far Cry From Kensington" but this year I will set about reading them all. Marvelous collection of short stories from a great writer. All of them eerie and extremely entertaining. I've only read one of her novels, "A Far Cry From Kensington" but this year I will set about reading them all.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Anna Powell

    Not at all what you imagine ghost stories to be.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thomasin Propson

    Obviously I love the collection because I love Spark. Not spooky, but still ghostly.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim Sanderson

    Enjoyable. I especially like the way that she assembles her narrative. So often, major plot points are mentioned almost in passing during a discussion of the events of the day. Just wonderful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    Short and entertaining, good for a light vacation read. Some of the stories were excellent, most were only fine.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nora G

    A terrific fall read

  19. 5 out of 5

    Moon Captain

    I read a few of these and they were fine. DNF. Pesky library always wants stuff back and it wasn't a gripping read so I returned it. I read a few of these and they were fine. DNF. Pesky library always wants stuff back and it wasn't a gripping read so I returned it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Duffy

    Unusual. She never does the expected. Deftly pulls the reader in and always surprises.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    These were uneven stories, the last few were my favorite

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I love these—I gave them four stars and not five because they seem like minor works in the context of her overall writing. I’m also not a huge fan of the collection compiled from the retrospect of an author’s life including works spanning dozens of years. A great story collection is to me like a great rock album (each of PJ Harvey’s or the obvious White Album etc by the Beatles), with a theme reverberating in each of the individual pieces, a set of concerns and obsessions that repeat and reveal I love these—I gave them four stars and not five because they seem like minor works in the context of her overall writing. I’m also not a huge fan of the collection compiled from the retrospect of an author’s life including works spanning dozens of years. A great story collection is to me like a great rock album (each of PJ Harvey’s or the obvious White Album etc by the Beatles), with a theme reverberating in each of the individual pieces, a set of concerns and obsessions that repeat and reveal an artist at a particular moment in time and emotional state. That said, the anchor story in this collection (Portobello Road, the last one) is haunting and reveals Spark as a great among the post-war authors of Europe whose fixation on death reveals the world at that moment of confusion and irrationality. Her style, simple sentences packed with more meaning than you are prepared for by their apparent ingenuousness, speaks to me the way Carver does.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    ‘The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark’ is a slightly misleading title. The stories contained in this book are not ghost stories in the (M. R.) Jamesian sense; they do not (apart from one) feature vengeful revenants destroying the equanimity of an otherwise ordered world, and some do not contain ghosts at all. What these tales do have in common is a supernatural element that just seems to be an organic development of the plot, but that’s about as far as it goes. This is an entertaining and varied co ‘The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark’ is a slightly misleading title. The stories contained in this book are not ghost stories in the (M. R.) Jamesian sense; they do not (apart from one) feature vengeful revenants destroying the equanimity of an otherwise ordered world, and some do not contain ghosts at all. What these tales do have in common is a supernatural element that just seems to be an organic development of the plot, but that’s about as far as it goes. This is an entertaining and varied collection of stories, with some wonderful lines of classic Spark: ‘it was my ambition to write about life, which I first had to see’, or this bravura opening sentence of The Portobello Road: ‘One day in my young youth at high summer, lolling with my lovely companions upon a haystack, I found a needle’. Odd, unexpected, sharp: the stories in this collection may not show Spark at her absolute best, but were a very satisfying way to spend a couple of days of my reading life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

    Two and a half stars, rounding up to three. I liked exactly half of the stories. I liked the first story, though (view spoiler)[the twist is given away by the title of the collection (hide spoiler)] . The next three stories I didn't really like, though I can't really say why. The stories aren't bad, just sort of boring. The last three stories in the collection were enjoyable. The next to last story, The Executor, I'd have to say is the most traditional ghost story in the collection, and I think wou Two and a half stars, rounding up to three. I liked exactly half of the stories. I liked the first story, though (view spoiler)[the twist is given away by the title of the collection (hide spoiler)] . The next three stories I didn't really like, though I can't really say why. The stories aren't bad, just sort of boring. The last three stories in the collection were enjoyable. The next to last story, The Executor, I'd have to say is the most traditional ghost story in the collection, and I think would have to be my favorite of the bunch if I had to pick one. Even though I only enjoyed half of the collection I would still recommend this to fans of ghost fiction. At 135 pages it's a short read and the back half makes up for the the slow start.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Not sure that the stories in here quite deserved to be collected in a separate 'ghost stories' collection. Several weren't even really ghost stories. I love Muriel Spark's writing but I was a bit underwhelmed by most of these. Portobello Road was pretty good, but what made the entire book worth it for me was 'the House of the Famous Poet' (apparently based on a real event in Spark's life) which I thought was tremendous and harrowing in that sly Muriel Spark way. Not sure that the stories in here quite deserved to be collected in a separate 'ghost stories' collection. Several weren't even really ghost stories. I love Muriel Spark's writing but I was a bit underwhelmed by most of these. Portobello Road was pretty good, but what made the entire book worth it for me was 'the House of the Famous Poet' (apparently based on a real event in Spark's life) which I thought was tremendous and harrowing in that sly Muriel Spark way.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    I picked this up on a whim, intrigued by the price (50 cents) and the fact that it was so short. I liked this book well enough, but I guess it just wasn't really my cup of tea. Most ghost stories leave me a little bored, but I liked her style of writing enough that I picked up another of her books at the library. I picked this up on a whim, intrigued by the price (50 cents) and the fact that it was so short. I liked this book well enough, but I guess it just wasn't really my cup of tea. Most ghost stories leave me a little bored, but I liked her style of writing enough that I picked up another of her books at the library.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    This collection of "ghost stories" isn't watching-a-horror-film-through-your-fingers scary but is reminiscent of a ghost story told around a campfire. But the writing is superb: "He looked as if he would murder me and he did." To be able to craft a single sentence that fine. There are some amazing stories in this collection - The Girl I Left Behind Me, The Executor, and The Portobello Road. This collection of "ghost stories" isn't watching-a-horror-film-through-your-fingers scary but is reminiscent of a ghost story told around a campfire. But the writing is superb: "He looked as if he would murder me and he did." To be able to craft a single sentence that fine. There are some amazing stories in this collection - The Girl I Left Behind Me, The Executor, and The Portobello Road.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Brazeal

    I first read Muriel Spark in high school with The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie and have been interested in her work since. These stories were definitely spooky and literally about ghosts, but I didn’t find them overly scary. I still enjoyed the read and loved finding this one on a recent trip to City Lights Books in San Francisco.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Everett Darling

    An ascerbic sense of humor coupled with a vivid imagination make Muriel Spark a writer worth reading. Still wrapped up in the abstract funeral concept. One day I will get my very own, and I will take it without complaint.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eric Bruen

    Wonderful stories, greedily read them all in one sitting including the two I'd read before. Spark is a fantastic story teller, her characterisation is very sharp and these startling tales were all so pleasurable to read. Wonderful stories, greedily read them all in one sitting including the two I'd read before. Spark is a fantastic story teller, her characterisation is very sharp and these startling tales were all so pleasurable to read.

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