Muckross Abbey and Other Stories

Grove. Mar. 2023. 256p. ISBN 9780802157485. pap. $18. F
In Murray’s new story collection, following her novel The Human Zoo, the suspense starts at the table of contents, with story titles building the requisite dread of all good ghost stories. The stories themselves are delightfully abundant with well-wrought spookiness. Classic elements of the Gothic terrain—fog, shadows, scratching branches, whispers, knocks, and lots of ghosts—are all featured. What raises these stories to a fresh level is the juxtaposition of such tried-and-true tropes against the mundanity of the 21st century—the dropped cell service when lost on a shrouded moor or the romantic get-away to a darkly charming old house with a possessed TV. These modern elements cleverly charge the narrative and ratchet up the creep factor. As one character muses: “There was, apparently, an entire field of study that was devoted to this, that tied into physics, that was there to take the everyday and to torture it into something so complex and deranged as to make life fraught with inexplicable, limitless horror.”
VERDICT With frequent nods to both contemporary and classic ghost-story writers (Daphne Du Maurier, Henry James), the success of these stories lies not just in the well-crafted writing but in the conscious mixing of a shape-shifting old world with an unreliably secure modern world. A masterly recharging of a treasured literary tradition that Murray clearly loves and respects.
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