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Book Review: FANTASMAGORIANA – “The Spectral Barber” and “Family Portraits”

One or two short stories at a time, as promised, as I work my way through the FANTASMAGORIANA. This latter is the collection of old German ghost stories, translated first into French and then English, that was read by Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, John Polidori, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the latter’s stepsister Claire Clairmont, at the Via Diodati on Lake Geneva during the “haunted summer” of 1816. These tales inspired the contest wherein all the participants were to right their own ghost stories, this resulting in Polidori’s THE VAMPYRE and Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Of what quality, then, are the original stories, in comparison with the ones they inspired?

“The Spectral Barber” is a mess, and a dull mess. This would explain why it is sometimes left out of the collection. It rambles, with plot points left to dangle, and at no point is it really scary. It is more of a love story with a supernatural twist. I found it disappointing.

“Family Portraits,” however, is a crackling good yarn, though it is written in the rigid pre-Victorian style that some readers may find off-putting. It is a tale of creepy paintings, family secrets, curses, castles, and a death-dealing ghost that will in its depiction appeal to all vampire marks. The plot can be a tad hard to follow at times, hinging as it does on who is related to whom and how exactly they are related, but that’s a minor quibble, and the reader honestly won’t care. It is a love story, too, with the prerequisite happy ending, but it’s a more masterful and effective one than its predecessor.

TheCheezman • December 5, 2018

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