As they relax after dinner on Christmas Eve, the members of a family and their guests turn to telling ghost stories. These ghoulish accounts range from the melancholy to the macabre, and get increasingly bizarre as the ghosts leap out of the tales and make an appearance in the family’s home. Fact and fiction, the real and unreal collide, until the reader is not sure who is haunting whom.A masterful work of comic horror, Jerome K. Jerome’s After-Supper Ghost Stories is a witty look at why Christmas Eve is so perfect for ghost stories and why ghosts love the Yuletide season.
I found the cover for the Alma Classics edition of After Supper Ghost Stories enticing. With its off-white swirls and flourishes upon a simple black background, it screamed “Intense, melodramatic, Gothic Victorian literature”, something akin to Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Well, After Supper Ghost Stories – which is an anthology that takes its title from the longest story among its pages – is melodramatic and it’s certainly Victorian, having first been published in 1891, but it’s a far cry from the Gothic style so popular during the 19th century.
Jerome (whose first name was apparently also his surname. Weird, right?) strikes me as something of a forward thinker. When we think of British Victorian gentlemen, we think of cigars and a stiff upper lip and all that jazz, but Jerome’s written style is quite informal. While reading stories such as Evergreens, Clocks and Tea Kettles, it put me in mind of a stand up comedian. I could just picture Jerome (pictured below) stood upon a stage, a glass of port in one hand, a pipe in the other, bantering with an ever-chuckling audience, his wit and sarcasm shining through his words.
Each of his stories is quite satirical in nature. After Supper Ghost Stories, for example, is a parody of the traditional ghost story, with all the stereotyped characters you find in any spooky tale, modern or classic. There’s the ‘skeptic’, the one who doesn’t believe in the haunting and tries to disprove their peers’ claims by sleeping in the haunted bedroom. There’s the ‘plucky’ character, the one who decides to investigate the ghostly happenings alone and so on and so on. The satirical nature of the stories made for an amusing read, but that was about it.
The anthology as a whole was mildly amusing and there were some interesting ideas. For example, I found The New Utopia to be a fascinating exploration into how easily a utopia can morph into a dystopia and how a true utopia would be impossible to achieve. One of my favourite instances of Jerome’s dry-humoured observations on the hypocrisy of Victorian society occurred within this story. There’s a scene where a group of would-be philosophers are talking about how class divides should be abolished, rendering everyone equal, and one of the philosophers, in the same breath, orders for their waiter to bring “green chartreuse and more cigars”. This single line, though simple, is a scathing criticism on the hypocrisy of upper class Victorian citizens who, for want of a better phrase, were all bark but no bite, who had all these idealistic notions but were reluctant to implement them.
However, this collection of stories failed to keep my overall interest. Aside from the titular story and The New Utopia, I found the stories were not so much stories, but more ramblings that would go off on confusing, seemingly unrelated tangents. I can appreciate how Jerome’s work has stood the test of time – he was definitely a talented writer – but his work just isn’t for me, I’m afraid.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Song: Not so much a song, but this is pretty much the sound of my mind wandering while trying to focus on this book.
This book is available to buy on Amazon in both paperback and e-reader format.