When Reason Dreams
Do you believe in ghosts? Moreover, do you have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a ghost story? The answer to the second question from my reading of Julian Halsby's enthralling collection of supernatural tales is emphatically not.
This is Julian's first work of fiction. Venturing into the realms of the supernatural and the spooky is a brave step indeed and the triumph of this book is that he has succeeded in producing a collection of tales that engage the imagination and therefore encourages the reader to keep turning the pages. Yes, some are stronger and more convincing than others but this is always the way with such an assortment. The strength of the short story format is that, like a box of chocolates, you can dip in and enjoy one or two and, of course, it is unwise to continue through them all in one sitting and run the risk of diminishing satisfaction. I found this collection "moreish"; tempting, like those coffee-creams, to sample just one more.
No, this book isn't intended to be consumed at one sitting, but it can be. There is good variety to be had. Some of Julian's spirits are bad indeed, others benign and helpful. The stories are well thought out, authentic and (with the one obvious and necessary exception that you have to accept a ghost can exist) do not rely overly on coincidence, complex plot lines or unlikely happenings. Great care has been taken to describe the characters, their lives, careers, ambitions and emotions. It is evident that Julian has drawn on his own deep experience and knowledge of the art world - he has run a gallery and written several books on art and art history and still lectures on this subject - although occasionally I felt that the balance between erudition and the fluidity of the prose tipped a little overmuch towards the former.
Julian has written these stories over a fairly long period and it shows in that he has had time to develop original and fresh ideas. All are deliberately set in the modern world, where the back cover tells me "science and technology have removed doubt and ignorance". But the modern world changes fast and I was relieved to find that the earlier works hold up well. I particularly enjoyed the tale of an art dealer's fate on stealing a masterpiece from an old lady, which I understand to be his first and I really do hope is not too-closely based on Julian's own activities in the art world during his career. I also enjoyed the original and rather free-form (by which I mean more of a narrative than a plot) story of a helpful spirit appearing in the walled garden of an old house to influence the new owner and maintain peace, tranquility and stability. I'm sure that if ghosts do exist, modern world or not, that they would favour stability and thrive in an undisturbed environment.
So, whether you believe in ghosts or not, I encourage you to read this book. Treat it like those chocolates. It can safely be devoured in an old house by a flickering fire, a story a night before bedtime (that's what I did). Or, like a chocoholic, plough straight through and don't fear the consequences!