Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/5/13 7:18 AM

Book review: Three Ghost Story Books

 Creepy tales

A triad of mysteries, two of them with other-worldly beings, makes for a rewarding read. 

Jessica Faleiro’s Afterlife, is a collection of stories featuring Goan ghosts in Goan locales. The Fonseca clan gathers to celebrate Savio’s 75th birthday and, for some reason not really explained, one by one, they begin to tell of their experiences and encounters with denizens of the other world.
Faleiro starts off a bit tamely tamely with the story of a much-loved son who has something to tell his ailing mother and comes in the form of a kogul bird. The tales start to get on stronger ground, if you will pardon the contradictory term, from then on. There are watery-eyes ghosts (indeed, a felicitous description),  ghosts from the Portuguese Inquisition period; guilt-ridden nanny apparitions, and the like.
Willy-nilly, the stories become a colourful background detail; the reader is basically gleaning a lot of information about the tale-tellers themselves, their quirks, their eccentricities, their belief or cynicism. And yes, life in Goa forms the subtle leitmotif.
Falerio employs no artful device in the telling of her stories. The style and language are uncomplicated and the descriptive passages have an informed elegance. Only thing, the reader is likely to be in on the game (the main stratagem, if you will) long before the denouement; at least, this reader was.
This slim volume of carefully calibrated, almost gentle ghost stories,  with a lovely black and white cover picture, is so full of atmosphere.

In Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills,  Minakshi Chaudhry curates supernatural sagas from Shimla and presents them for the reader’s delight in the most simplistic manner possible. Indeed, at times, the stories are forced to stand purely on their merit, because Chaudhry seems to be more collator than writer.
It’s all there, right from the mist-laden trees on the jacket, the hoary chestnuts that attend to ghosts in hill towns: forlorn wraiths; churails who wander at  water sources between 12.00 noon and 3.00 pm; the dreaded sound of unseen hooves; the atmosphere always, but always, turning eerily chilly when a visitation is on; baleful and cranky ghosts balancing helpful and amiable ones; mostly unsuspecting victims and a couple who know or sense what they cannot see.
The book has a charming idea at its heart but falls heavily on the execution front. A room becomes a house in the same story; punctuation takes frequent leave of absence in a tiresome manner; tenses play fast and loose with the text. Repetition forms the backbone of these stories; apparently most of the ghosts conform to some code of behaviour.
I would say the reader can safely give this lot of stories a skip but the book is in its fourth impression, so obviously one person’s lame ghost is another’s terror-inducing phantom.

The pick of this lot is Madhulika Liddle’s set of short stories titled My Lawfully Wedded Husband and other stories, which are not so much spectral or supernatural in nature as slice-of-life tales that come with a mandatory twist to each tale’s tail, a kicker that the reader starts to anticipate and second-guess soon.
The people are everypeople, ordinary, banal but capable of mining their intrinsic base nature if the situation so required… and, in Liddle’s world, the situation frequently calls for such regression. So, overtly nice people turn just a wee bit evil; murder is contemplated and committed; the disadvantaged and the deprived choose to shrug rather than drown; and yes, everywhere, people give in limpidly to temptation.
Liddle does a nice line in creeps. Which is why the reader is willing to overlook minor league nuisances like italics where they don’t need to be, an awkwardly constructed sentence or two.  Because, in the end, that one sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, quirk placed inside each story  is a most appealing quirk.
This ran in THE HINDU`S LITERARY REVIEW of 5 May 2013.
Afterlifebook reviewghost storiesGhost Stories of Shimla HillsJessica FaleiroMadhulika LiddleMinakshi ChaudhryMy Lawfully Wedded Husband and other stories

Sheila Kumar • May 5, 2013

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