Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago. If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.
Today I’m reviewing a short story published in 2015 – The Visitor at Anningley Hall by Chris Thorndycroft. I came across it because I took part in the blog tour for one of Chris’s other books, Lords of the Greenwood. You can read all about that book and a fascinating guest post from Chris here.
This is also my book for this month’s The BookBum Club theme – ‘Short and Sweet’ (books under 200 pages).
About the Book
In 1904, M. R. James published ‘The Mezzotint’, a macabre short story about a picture that has a chilling tale of its own. This novella explores the horrifying events told within that picture.
Anningley Hall – a large country house in Essex – is home to Arthur Francis and his wife Elisa. Arthur is obsessed with his new printing press and so consumed by his desire to make a name for himself as a mezzotint artist that he is oblivious to his wife’s increasing desperation and loneliness. Elisa is convinced that something sinister is coming for their infant son and will stop at nothing to protect him. When she discovers a disturbing secret pertaining to her husband’s past, she begins to question the safety of their home as a refuge from evil. And their three-year-old son is in contact with a dark presence that seems intent on entering Anningley Hall…
Format: ebook (46 pp.) Publisher:
Published: 2015 Genre: Short Story, Ghost Story, Horror
Find The Visitor at Anningley Hall on Goodreads
I am a big fan of M. R. James’ ghost stories and, in my household, Christmas is not complete without a repeat viewing of one of the stories adapted for television by the BBC in the 1970s (available on DVD from The British Film Institute). So naturally I was excited when I came across this short story which describes itself as a prequel to one of those stories, ‘The Mezzotint’.
In ‘The Mezzotint’, one of the most well-known of M. R. James’ ghost stories, Mr Williams, the curator of a University art museum, is sent what appears at first to be a rather undistinguished engraving of an unidentified country house. However, the picture proves to have quite remarkable properties, revealing bit by bit the chilling story of a tragedy. The Visitor of Anningley Hall goes behind the scenes of the picture to recount and enlarge upon the events eventually discovered by Williams and his colleagues in The Mezzotint.
The author has fun recreating the style and language of M. R. James, complete with some of James’ trademark deprecating asides about golf and what he regards as ‘lowbrow’ culture (“Tess of the D’Urbevilles?…it’s not a book I could ever read myself.”) For instance, this from The Mezzotint:
‘…tea was taken to the accompaniment of a discussion which golfing persons can imagine for themselves, but which the conscientious writer has no right to inflict upon any non-golfing persons.’
And this from The Visitor at Anningley Hall:
‘Some discussed the vicar’s sermon, others the weather, and some rather dull gentleman shared anecdotes from the links which the golfing reader will have to imagine.’
There were just a couple phrases – ‘six months in the loony ward’ and ‘off her rocker’ – that, although they might have been around in M. R. James’ day, I wasn’t sure would have been common usage in 1805 when the story is set.
If ruined cottages, shadowy figures glimpsed through a window and what appear to be bundles of rags crawling slowly across a lawn get your spine tingling, then you will not be disappointed by The Visitor at Anningley Hall. It is an accomplished homage to M. R. James by an author who clearly admires the work of that doyen of the ghost story. However, since by the end, the reader knows everything about the events depicted in M. R. James’ original story, this prequel does make ‘The Mezzotint’ itself largely redundant. On the other hand, it is not necessary to be familiar with ‘The Mezzotint’ to enjoy this short story. And, if it does whet your appetite, there are lots of other fantastic ghost stories by M. R. James to be discovered. Some of my favourites are ‘The Ash-Tree’, ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad’ and ‘Number 13’.
In three words: Creepy, chilling, suspenseful
Try something similar…Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James
About the Author
Chris Thorndycroft is a British writer of historical fiction, horror and fantasy. His early short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Moon Digest and American Nightmare. His first novel under his own name was A Brother’s Oath. He also writes under the pseudonym P. J. Thorndyke.
Connect with Chris