An engaging and highly intertextual collection of gothic stories. All of the stories seem to either be influenced by or loving homages to other texts (Rebecca, Dubliners, etc.). My favorites are “Muckross Abbey,” “Apartment 4D,” and “Vanishing Point.” I like “The Flowers, The Birds, The Trees” as an ending point to the collection, suggesting the powerful nature of friendship—sometimes to frightening degrees. The strongest stories have satisfying endings and a wonderful sense of inevitability. The weaker ones tend to struggle to stick the landing, or to connect the author’s point with the actual events of the story.
Three stars because I liked it! As I have written in several reviews of books containing short stories, short stories are not my go to when I am looking for a new read. Muckross Abbey and Other Stories is on the Goodreads list of 2023's best horror, and so, I sought it out since I am tacking that list. This book was my first exposure to Sabina Murray, and I will keep her on my list to seek out again in the future. I will certainly recommend Muckross Abbey and Other Stories to fellow readers, especially those who particularly enjoy short stories.
This collection of ten stories focuses on the eerie, the off center, that gothic feeling, and, of course, ghosts. The settings vary from English moors to an Irish Abbey to an English girls’ school to a vacation villa on the Mediterranean. There are infidelities answered from both sides of the grave.
The stories are low key, rolling out the tension slowly. Even in the couple of cases where I felt the end coming, that didn’t spoil my enjoyment. In at least two cases, I was left wanting to know more…what happened next beyond the the written ending. I have enjoyed ghost stories for years and this book met my needs very well as I think it will for others who enjoy this genre. It doesn’t slip into horror but maintains that edginess of fright one feels when dealing with the unknown in our “real” world on a foggy night full of nameless shapes and sounds. Recommended to ghost story readers and others who would like to try the genre. These are well done stories.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A fascinating anthology of ghost stories and other type of horror or gothic. They're all well done, creepy and they slowly bring you to face the most frightening part.
The author is an excellent storyteller and almost all the story are very good.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
Quite interesting stories hobbled by inconsistent plotting -- I felt that most of them went on too long, and every single one of them could have done with a more straightforward ending. I really felt they all fell flat towards the end.
Still, all in all a nice collection that I might even be tempted to re-read eventually.
It's often quite hard to properly explain a collection of short stories because of the variety of content and quality which can exist between each story. Not so much in this case. Muckross Abbey felt like a collection of old fashion English horror stories, only with American main characters. There was a familiarity to each of them (in fact I felt as though I had read "The Flower, the Birds, the Trees" somewhere before) and no new surprises.
While that may be the case Murray's writing was clear and accessible. She can build intriguing characters. A few of the stories might have fared better having being longer stories and been given the chance for her to explore the characters and their relationships.
Nothing stood out to me either good or bad and I doubt I will remember much later but for the nagging sense of trying to figure out why that story was so familiar to me.
What a treat. Real, honest to goodness, creepy, spine tingling ghost stories. These days so many "ghost" stories seem to be filled with too many twists and turns or too much blood and gore. The Muckross Abbey collection are simply ghost stories - well told, beautifully crafted, neither too long nor too short. I loved them. One of the really great things about a good ghost story is that you're never sure who is telling it and it caught me out a couple of times.
However I am a total scaredy cat and I actually slept with the light on last night. My house is old and it creaks despite there only being me in it. People have said there's a poltergeist living in one of my bookshelves but he/she only seems to get upset when a particularly bad book gets put there.
But back to this excellent collection of short stories. If you like creepy then you'll love these. Just read them during the day, preferably in bright sunlight.
I received this ARC from Netgalley and am writing this review voluntarily.
I didn't know what I was expecting going in, but instead of a fully done ghost stories handfed to you, this is overall more of an atmospheric gothic supernatural reads perfect for entering the autumn season. Curl up under your blanket and hear the heavy rain pouring outside with thunders, open this book and read it in peace.
It's not scary at all. Eerie chill perhaps would fit better. The story always cut abruptly in the middle without clear conclusion (something to note if you NEED to understand what's going on in a story, but I personally don't mind it)
but I suppose that's exactly how ghost stories work. You tell a story, and stops in the middle, having no clear answer as to what happens next or if any of it is true. You just drop it and shrugs, letting the listener make what they believe out of it and pour yourself a hot coffee. That's how this book is best read. Felt like someone read you a creepy hanging superstition tales over the fireplace.
Taking a page out of the old masters’ books, this collection is as haunting and atmospheric in ambiance and as dense in writing style as something M.R. James or someone like that might have written, but (and this is a significant Kardashian-size but) this collection is infinitely more readable.
This reader, at least, gets put to sleep by a lot of old timey genre fiction, these stories were lively enough to stay awake to. Not so much slow as slow-simmering, tale after tale of ghostly goings on, this collection is a perfectly fun way to spend a dark evening or two, especially for genre fans. Specifically, genre fans who like their frights quiet, subtly eerie, and literary.
The only thing here is I’d recommend this collection for dipping in and out instead of reading straight through as I did. The latter method makes some of them appear too similar, blends them together in a way, one ghost after another. But taken individually, they’d likely shine more in their own individual ways.
Overall, a nice read. Thanks Netgalley.
This is a spooky wreath of stories that capitalize on their modern gothic remit beautifully. The stories interlink like a well-produced album that flow seamlessly one into the next, echoing themes, tensions, and characters across the slim volume. Though I put the book down between stories and still thoroughly enjoyed it, it would reward the reader who can get through the ten stories in one sitting. Perfect for a stormy evening.
"Muckross Abbey and Other Stories" is a collection of ten ghostly tales by Massachussets-based award-winning author Sabina Murray, hailed by The Washington Post as a pioneer of “ironic Gothic”.
In this volume, the influence of the classic English ghost story comes to the fore. “Harm”, one of the longer pieces here, speaks of the ghost of an American playwright who returns to haunt an Irish artist retreat house where she died. In its final paragraphs, which serve as an epilogue of sorts, the story turns all “meta”, with one of the minor characters ruminating on the nature of ghosts and their tales:
“But in the end, it doesn’t really matter, does it? In another twenty years, we’ll all have forgotten who she was. She’ll just be that lady buried in the wrong place, another ghost wandering about, desperate for someone to supply the narrative"
“I say it had to be love,” said Jennifer... and it was moving, this impossible love of a dead woman, a dead love, a tale of few concrete details, except for its irrepressible woe.
It is an interpretation of “the ghost” which would have been familiar to the classic writers mentioned in the book’s blurb – “Wharton and James, Stoker and Shelley”. In fact, the spectres that haunt Murray’s collection are largely unquiet spirits, whether jealous ghosts returning to seek revenge or simply bodies “buried in the wrong place” coming back to complete unfinished business or simply to bother the living. They also behave in just the way we would expect them to: walking through walls, appearing as vague mists in doorways and mirrors, re-enacting their final moments. It is perhaps to reinforce this “familiarity” that, with a few exceptions, Murray places her stories in the “Old World”: the settings include desolate, foggy Dartmoor (“The Long Story”), rural Oxfordshire (“The Third Boy”) and Ireland (“Muckross Abbey” and the above-mentioned “Harm”).
So what does Murray bring to these stories which goes beyond “pastiche”? First of all, the narratives largely take place in the “here and now”, and feature contemporary individuals with contemporary concerns, who take selfies on their smartphones and watch Netflix on their tvs. This creates an intriguing contrast between a subject-matter based on “tradition”, and the modern-day settings. Secondly, there is, in many of the pieces, a sense of playing around with history of the genre, and “knowing” (ironic?) references to the tropes of the Gothic. For instance, “Remote Control” starts with a honeymooning couple debating whether a movie quote about Monte Carlo is taken from To Catch a Thief or from Rebecca. It is, indeed, from Rebecca and the rest of the story is, actually, a riff on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel. “Apartment 4D” takes place in a modern-day drab apartment building, but is framed as a tale told around the fire – surprise, surprise – one Christmas Eve.
But, ultimately, the best reason for reading this collection is that the stories are all deliciously creepy, with some of them being genuinely unsettling. My favourites include “Apartment 4D”, which has some shocking twists, and the two related stories, both featuring the same nuns’ school, “The Dead Children” (what an ending!) and “The Flowers, the Birds, the Trees”. Highly recommended.