Posted by: Sally Ingraham | November 1, 2011


by Oliver Onions

widdershinsI am quickly coming to the conclusion that I especially like psychological ghost stories – tales of hauntings or supernatural events that are loose and open ended, where the abnormal could be of a truly dubious and other-worldly nature, or simply (and perhaps more frighteningly) the mental aberrations of the protagonists.

I was absolutely mesmerized by this collection of short stories by Oliver Onions. From the novella The Beckoning Fair One (noted by many as one of the finest tales of psychological horror) to the rather short and sweet The Cigarette Case, each story is rich imagined, wonderfully atmospheric, and full of instantly gripping characterizations.

The Beckoning Fair One is a classic story of a house haunted by a malevolent presence. Paul Oleron rents out a decrepit but cheap place where he hopes to finish the book he’s writing. Instead he succumbs to his fascination with a female presence in the house, slowly withdrawing from the world. Is there really a ghost, or is the reader experiencing Paul’s growing depression and complete mental breakdown? Oliver Onions leaves the interpretation up to the reader, here and in every other story in the collection.

In Phantas the 18th century captain of a becalmed and sinking ship sees and speaks to the captain of a 20th century vessel through a crack in time. In Rooum an old man is pursued by a spirit that follows him and then pushes through him, each time peeling away a bit of himself. In Benlian a sculptor withers away in an effort to shift his living spirit into the stone of his creation. In each of the eight tales in this small volume, Onions presents a disturbed individual who is battling demons or spirits, is falling under the influence of passions, or obsessions, or is fighting off insanity. Or…perhaps an individual who is being haunted by the supernatural. Who is to say?

Here, as in Vernon Lee’s Hauntings which I read earlier this autumn, the connection between creativity and madness is explored: the point where the artist is in danger of losing themselves in their work. Always an interesting topic to me.

peril the firstI was thoroughly impressed with Onions’ writing, which was detailed and evocative, and was genuinely spooked by some of his stories. I’ll definitely return to his work soon. This was my 3rd book for R.I.P. VI Peril the First. I am still working on my final read for R.I.P. VI, but since this is the way things are going this year, I will be reading/reviewing for the challenge long after the official end…which was yesterday. Oh well! I think you can safely continue the spooky reading at least through November anyway.

Speaking of which, Happy November!


  1. And happy November to you!

    This sounds like a great read. I agree with you re: tales that leave the interpretation of supernatural versus psychological explanations up to the reader. Sometimes the two interpretations play off each other and make the whole thing spookier than it could have been with only one or the other.

    And yeah…I will be very late on House of Leaves as well. But I’ve been enjoying chatting with you about it on Twitter. 🙂

    • Spookier indeed – I think that’s why The Beckoning Lady is such a good/disturbing story. It could go either way (supernatural/psychological) and it is equally effective whichever way you choose to interpret it. It’s always a pleasure to me when an author trusts his readers enough to leave the decision up to them!

  2. […] R.I.P. VI was fiendish once again (dang, no wrap-up post. *sigh* Book reviews are here, here, here, and […]

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