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Christy-Ann Conlin: Strange Hauntings in Canadian Literature

Thinking about ghost stories, now that summer itself is nearly a ghost. 

Book Cover The Memento

Not to get all controversial, but summer itself is nearly a ghost, as we find ourselves now in the final days of August. And as we turn our minds to the turn of the season, it seems fitting to turn to ghost stories as well, autumn being their optimal season, what with bare trees like skeletons, all that fetid decay, and Halloween, of course.

Christy-Ann Conlin, author of The Memento—a ghost story that has made a perfect summer book for many readers—selects for us some of CanLit's strangest and most peculiar hauntings.


Book Cover The Broken Hours

The Broken Hours, by Jaqueline Baker

The Broken Hours is a period piece set in Providence, Rhode Island in the mid-1930s, both a ghost story and a fictional portrait of cult favourite writer, H.P. Lovecraft. I gobbled up this ghostly tale in a night and love it for how unexpected the ghost is, both who, when, and how it appears. The novel is complete with creaking doors, shadows, and distortions of time which would make Shirley Jackson proud.


Book Cover The Lost Garden

The Lost Garden, by Helen Humphries

If there ever was a novel to haunt a reader long after finishing it, The Lost Garden is the winner. While not a ghost story proper, the main character is relentlessly haunted by the past, which she brings to life through the resurrection of the lost garden at an English estate during WW II. This book is a short and exquisite meditation on memory and longing.


Book Cover The Guardians

The Guardians, by Andrew Pyper

Disclosure—I reviewed this book for the Globe and Mail, and I loved it then and love it now.  Equal parts coming of age story and haunted house book, it’s a tingly page turner where secrets and shames drive a merciless haunting. I read The Guardians upstairs on a cold windy night with the orange cat on my lap and was so consumed by the story that when a low voice called to me from at the bottom of the stairs (my husband), I screamed so loudly my kitty still hisses when he sees the book.


Book Cover From the Fifteenth District

"From the Fifteenth District," title story from The Fifteenth District, A Novella and Eight Short Stories, by Mavis Gallant

And now for something completely different…"From the Fifteenth District" is an eerie and humorous inversion of a ghost story…the lives of the post war dead are incessantly haunted by the living. The ghosts can’t even have peace in death, for the past is constantly interrupted by the disruptive present, and the distortions and annoyances the living cause. It’s a playful and stylistic masterpiece.


Book Cover As Birds Bring Forth the Sun

"As Birds Bring Forth the Sun," title story from As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories, by Alistair MacLeod

In this short story, the spectre is a family legend, what is seen as a family curse, kept alive through the very telling of the story. I love how the supernatural, the belief in it, invades the day to day, through the oral tradition. This story has always stayed with me as a reminder of how stories accumulate a power and life simply from the retelling down through the generations.


Book Cover The Dark

The Dark, by Claire Milligan

The Dark is a lush, dense story which spans from the American Civil War to the twentieth century, telling the story of the three Fox Sisters and their purported ability to speak to the dead. I was entranced by this detailed period piece centred on the popular Spiritualist movement and what drove it…the desperate human longing to believe in something otherworldly residing in the eternal darkness which awaits us all.


Book Cover The Ghosts We Know

The Ghosts We Know, by Sean Karemaker

Again, not a traditional book of haunting, but one where the past stalks, invades and distorts the present, where we are confronted by the familiar and the unknown. The autobiographical stories in this book are told in such a bizarre way, where the bridge between past and present collapses, where yesterday creeps into today. The disturbing juxtaposition of rural small town British Columbia life and the gritty world of big city Vancouver shows how we can never leave the past behind. The eerie illustrations in the book depict the merging of everyday and the otherworldly.


Book Cover Shoeless Joe

Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe is usually classed as magic realism but there is no more heartwarming haunting in a book when dead legendary ballplayers show up for a haunted game in a ballfield, a ballfield built in the middle of nowhere with the express purpose of summoning their spirits to the present. The ballfield opens up a portal to a more sentimental time.  I love the tenderness in this novel, the underlying belief in everyday magic. 


Book Cover The Memento

About The Memento:

The Memento tells the story of Fancy Mosher as she lives and works in the servants' quarters at Petal's End, a formerly illustrious private land surrounded by dense forest belonging to the famed Parker family. Since the Great War, the estate has been slowly crumbling at the same rate as the family's reputation. Fancy grows up listening to her family's ghost stories and watching the Parkers from a safe distance with her best friend, Art, but the summer she turns twelve she not only learns that her family has been hiding a terrifying truth about who she is and what she is capable of, she also begins to experience firsthand the magnitude of secrets and horrors held within the estate's walls and buried in its lush gardens—secrets and lies that come to haunt Fancy and the large, fabulous cast of Petal's End, all of whom refuse to move on from a dying way of life.

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