Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

I have always loved a good scary story, especially one with a hint of the gothic.  When I was at university I spent one very happy week reading Lady Audley's Secret, The Woman in White, The Castle of Otranto and, the completely bonkers The Monk.  I even enjoyed writing the essay on them. 

The psychological style scariness and unexplained noises, raging storms and haggard looking ghosts has always appealed to me much more than blood, gore and violence.  I can cope with much more of this in books than I can in films - for example I've read American Psycho but would not even dream of watching the film version.  It's easier to skim over nastiness in books and the images are less graphic and much more subtle.  However, I've always found blood and gore in books to be a little brutal and obscene.  My least favourite parts  in Game of Thrones are the bits where people are getting various limbs chopped off by an axe, or losing their entrails in some gruesome way.

The Dead of Winter has all of the classic gothic ingredients of a good psychological ghost story, which doesn't need to feature any mention of bodily parts or spilt bodily fluids: old-fashioned setting, isolated creepy old house, characters with vague maladies of the nerves and a woman who is not quite all that she seems.  It takes a couple of chapters to get going, but once the story gets moving, it becomes very difficult to put it down.  It's written in Victorian style, but is written for young people, so is accessible, something which is a hallmark of Priestley's writing.  It's not an easy read though - I would say a reading age of around 12 is the minimum for independent reading.  It would also be far too scary for a highly sensitive under-12.  Admittedly, I am not a great benchmark, being a wimp of the highest order, who would not look in the mirror for three days after watching The Others, but I did feel utterly terrified when I left my bed to go and turn out the light after finishing reading the book.  I ended up having to go to the extreme lengths of reading a bit of my "English in Education" journal to dull my heightened nerves.  I learnt something about the importance of grammar in English education, and was able to get to sleep without thinking that a scary ghost was going to come and kill me.  Bonus.

I am hoping that the students I am reading it with will enjoy it.  If they do there's a whole genre of similar, brilliant stories for them to enjoy.  Next stop The Turn of the Screw or The Yellow Wallpaper. But probably not The Monk.

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