Women have always written exceptional stories of horror and the supernatural. This anthology aims to showcase the very best of these, from Amelia B. Edwards’s ‘The Phantom Coach’, published in 1864, through past luminaries such as Edith Wharton and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, to modern talents including Muriel Gray, Sarah Pinborough and Lilith Saintcrow.
From tales of ghostly children to visitations by departed loved ones, and from heart-rending stories to the profoundly unsettling depiction of extreme malevolence, what each of these stories has in common is the effect of a slight chilling of the skin, a feeling of something not quite present, but nevertheless there.
If anything, this showcase anthology proves that sometimes the female of the species can also be the most terrifying . . .
Last year, I went to the Dublin Ghost Story Festival. It was amazing. Fabulous writers talking about tales both old and new, booksellers hawking macabre items, and a deep dive into what makes the ghost story such a special genre. And even some free books! I brought home The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women and set it aside. I was writing my own ghost story; I would get to these later.
I am only sorry I waited so long. As in any anthology, there are better and worse stories. Some of the better ones were chilling, some were action-packed, some were touching. I’d say about 80% of the stories held my attention, maybe 20% were a slog to get through, either because they were predictable or because the tone fell flat. But that’s not a surprise in a book as varied as this one.
I wouldn’t call this a horror anthology per se, because some of the stories are not horrific at all. It’s the odd thing about ghost stories—they’re hard to classify.
Ghost stories are a natural genre to anthologize as for the most part they are short, though exceptions certainly exist (like Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box and Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot). The ghost story is as much about tone as it is about plot, and that’s difficult to sustain through a whole novel—both for writer and reader. The better of these stories are true little gems, packing a wallop of emotion into a tiny space.
Overall evaluation: B+, definitely worth the money!