Although I’m not (as I think I’ve said before) particularly a fan of short stories, I am a big fan of ghost stories and, of course, the ghost story is made for the short story form. Or should that be the other way round? Either way, if you are a fan of either the short story or the ghost story, then do pick up a copy of John Connolly’s Nocturnes.
The volume contains twenty stories, including two novellas (just a bit too long to be short stories really), many of which were originally written to be read aloud on BBC Radio Northern Ireland and, like all good ghost stories, it is the first person voice, the almost audible witness, that comes through most strongly. The tone is that of the great Victorian and Edwardian ghost story writers, the rich (almost pompous) vocabulary of the university-educated and highly cultured narrator, the sceptic rationalist forced to confront an irrational reality. But this is not mere pastiche. These are modern stories that pay homage to James, Lovecraft, Dickens, Poe et al and Connolly draws his sources, with authority from both the literary and oral traditions of ghostlore and the supernatural.
This is the first of Connolly’s work that I’ve read, but he is a confident and skillful writer who walks that tightrope between terror and comedy, always staying on the side of terror. Or if he does stray into comedy, as in ‘The Cycle’, then it is done so with care and deliberation. Connolly was born in Dublin, but the settings for his stories alternate between England, Ireland and the United States and he writes about each landscape with a quiet, understated ease.
It is difficult to choose a favourite amongst the stories in this varied collection, so I won’t even try, but I can say that there wasn’t a single piece in this collection that I didn’t enjoy and that didn’t send a tingle down my spine. Just the stuff for a winter’s night.