Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A Ghost's Story by Lorna Gibb

review by Maryom

Katie King was a superstar 'spirit' of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with her male counterpart John, she appeared at seances and spiritualist meetings in America, Britain, Russia and Italy. Some people believed in her whole-heartedly; others believed her to be just trick being played on the unsuspecting. Sometimes she would move objects, sometimes glide across the room or speak through a medium, but as she feels her powers failing she decides to write her story and help people understand what lies 'on the other side'. 
The spirit comes to consciousness in the early 1800s, slipping into and changing a boy's life; thereafter whenever she can she seeks out that boy as he grows to adulthood and,inevitably, old age. But Katie can only go where she is called, so is often frustrated in her wishes, and begins to learn about human emotions - the longing for companionship and even love. 

Katie's story is told through a collection of spirit writings - some dictated through mediums, others written directly by her on a computer - gathered from various sources around the world by researcher Adam Marcus, working for The Magic Circle, and while Katie's evolution, from wispy spirit to one who could manipulate objects and people, forms the main story, alongside in the footnotes is the tale of Adam's original scepticism, his failing health, and his growing belief that Katie isn't a figment of imagination or a piece of theatrical fakery but a being as alive as himself.

First off I would say this isn't maybe the kind of spooky ghost story you would expect - Katie isn't a malevolent ghost out for revenge, haunting an ancestral home or the place she was killed while seeking retribution, or even an unsettled spirit yearning to be re-united with a loved one. She doesn't remember a corporeal life at all, just a series of rushed, blurred images, always associated with death, before she fully gains 'consciousness'. Nonetheless, I found it an extremely fascinating, compelling read. Her 'memoirs' take the reader behind the scenes at seances in places as diverse as log cabins on the American frontier and the splendour of the Russian Court, though mainly they take place in the respectable homes of Victorian era professional mediums - some of whom have a real connection to the spirit world (according to Katie), some are just plain charlatans, but all rely on a range of gimmicks to impress their audience. 
Katie herself is, at various times, amused, irritated, curious, bored, witty, vivacious, sad; in fact, she's completely human. 

Unlike the stories which set out to frighten the reader, this one made me wonder what exactly ghosts might be - not the dead, returned to pass on messages, but other unknown spirits maybe. For me, though, at heart, this is a very human story, one of the search for love, which surely all of us can relate to.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Granta Books
Genre - Adult, ghost stories

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