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WARNING: Long review! First of all, Derek Acorah lovers - don't waste your time reading this then leaving me bitchy messages about how he's the real deal and the best medium ever and told you about your auntie's neighbour's hairdresser's dead cat. I'm sure he's got some abilities, but (like Uri Gellar) I don't think it works on demand. Which is rather unfortunate when you've got UK Tours and a TV show all reliant on your 'gift'. Right? Smashing. Now, I don't think there's many swearys in here, but since this is a subject I've been interested in for... oooh donkeys - throughout childhood and teenage years, then of course I'm going to ramble a bit. But it's relevent, I promise!
+ WHY THIS BOOK? +
My mum loaned me it, and folk who remember one of my previous reviews, mum and I believe ghosts exist and are quite interested in some other paranormal or 'supernatural' stuff. Mum's a Spiritualist, so of course believes in the afterlife, and so do I. It's just always made sense, really. Now how or where mum heard of this book, I'm afraid I dunno. I forgot to ask. I could text her but my phone is all the way over *there* and there's no point in emailing my brother to ask him because then he'd have to get up and go downstairs to ask her. But she told me about it, told me it had some pretty funny parts and even had an eyebrow-raising anecdote from participating in the television atrocity (read: faked shite) that is 'Most Haunted'.
Oooh aye, that was my interest peaked, let me tell you!
But Will Storr is a journalist, and I don't really like journalists. Giving the book the quick once-over I notice that it's listed as 'Travel' on the back (no doubt due to the fact that Storr was traipsing around England, visiting the Vatican, and nipping over to Philadelphia the odd time) and had lots of positive endorsements on the front ranging from the Big Issue to Danny 'friend of Dave Gorman' Wallace. Okay, fair enough. I'll give this a go then.
+ THE BOOK ITSELF (read with lights on or off...? Off. With the Boyfriend beside me...) +
The book begins with Storr listening and making notes of rules from a 'demonologist' as they are about to set off on a paranormal investigation at a house in Maryland, USA. We are soon told that Storr was brought here to write a piece for 'Loaded' magazine, (the intellectual's reading material of choice) purely so that some breast-ogling neanderthals could mock this Yank who worked on central heating by day and marvel at how he claimed to chase ghoulies and boogeymen at night. Storr though is being gradually introduced to actual ghosthunting methods though - infra-red cameras, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon, as in that 'White Noise' movie) - but as he is a rational journalist, and a lapsed Catholic with no belief in the afterlife or religion, he is there to take everything with a pinch of salt and be a little cynical towards it all.
A house built on a graveyard? Bring it on!
Slight problem though... although Storr so far is remaining unconvinced, he admits he is still a little worried when he finds out about objects flying around the possibility of being physically injured. Well think about it, if you were in a room with objects being thrown at you, do you think standing there smugly going 'I don't believe in poltergeists la la la la la' is going to stop a concussion? It's like saying 'I don't believe in the probability theory' when you swipe my drink, because it's not just probable - it's damn likely - that I'm gonna kick your ass.
Storr is very unprepared though when it turns out his story may not end up a 'laugh at the dumb Americans who believe in hauntings' article, when he ends up experiencing some things himself. 'Ghost lights' on a camera, hearing an awful voice recording on a dictaphone, even feeling something touching him... Storr ends up a wee bit shaken. Actually, his reaction was a bit funnier, with a lot more swearing. Big girl.
As if that wasn't enough, Storr goes with Lou (our chain-smoking demonologist) to meet a woman possessed after playing with a ouija board. The events that happened there bother Storr for months on end, and prompt him to investigate such paranormal things even further - first of all, by joining the Ghost Club and helping them with an overnight investigation and learning a bit about dowsing (as well as getting a bit bored while waiting for something to happen - a common occurence for him, as we find out).
This in turn leads him to finding out more about one of the most famous poltergeist cases in history - the Enfield Poltergeist in 1978 spanning over a year terrorising a North London family, with most of the activity centering around the young teenage daughters in the household. He even interviews one of the girls (albeit, all grown up now and with a family of her own) and the main investigator Maurice Grosse in his quest to understand whether the paranormal can actually be rationally explained.
What follows is a lovely jaunt meeting a druid, a witch who routinely gets 'possessed' during investigations, and a wondrous assortment of other folk who draw Storr further into these paranormal goings-on, while he occasionally remains sceptical or notes that a specific happening may have had a human influence rather than an otherworldly one, more often than not he's left flabbergasted and even seeks advice from an exorcist (once he manages to find one willing to speak to him, of course).
+ THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SHIT-SCARED +
Each chapter is titled with a quote from someone, and when reading each chapter you can see from who and in what context (I was confused about the 'Come back, Rain-On-Face' and 'Turn the light off, bitch' ones until I read them). Storr's method of writing can be amusing at times (while incredibly bored waiting for a table to move during a seance, he says he'll levitate it through the window with his feckin' foot if he has to wait any longer), although there were one or two instances where I thought it really wasn't that necessary to give a description of each new surrounding, and of snowflakes 'ambling' past car headlights.
It was a little irritating as well when Storr learns that there may be some bad mojo being done by a powerful 'black magick' group somewhere in England, and shows his ignorance by researching so thoroughly everything else, but fails to do a simple check to find out who Hecate is. He even asks the exorcist if that is a known demon (a wikipedia search would have told him that Hecate is a mythological goddess - nothing at all satanic there). Simple stupid mistakes like this pissed me off, especially when he referred to Spiritualism as a 'ghost-based religion'. Quite misleading, if you ask me. It's a bit like referring to Hinduism as the worshipping of cows. Much more to it.
What IS good about the book though, is the fact that Storr has recorded most if not all of this on a dictaphone - it's even referenced to by one of the ghost hunting group who seems a bit worried when Storr asks her opinion of 'Most Haunted' in case he intends to play the recording to them (!) - so you feel content in the knowledge that all the quotes and conversations will be fairly accurate. Probably. Although his chapter on his experience with 'Most Haunted' was quite entertaining, and just confirmed my suspicions about the programme itself and of Derek Acorah. Like a good wee boy avoiding a lawsuit, though - what Storr experiences he just shares with us, he doesn't say outright that the show and it's 'medium' are faked. He lets us say it ourselves.
+ CONCLUSION +
Since Mum enjoyed the book and recommended it to me, that meant that there was at least something of interest in there that perhaps we hadn't already read in the many other books on this topic we've read before. While Storr's writing method is good and easy to follow, you can't help but feel that at times he does leave the people he meets open to ridicule - these people who have been kind enough to take him into their homes so he can write a book. Granted, if you're going to run around declaring yourself a demonologist / witch / monsterologist then perhaps he figures it's your own undoing.
There was a bit more information about the Enfield Poltergeist case that I didn't previously know about (no doubt thanks to Storr managing to interview Maurice Grosse before his passing in 2006), and although it is unfortunate that negative hauntings do occur, it was interesting to hear people's stories in their own words about their experiences as it seemed to make the cases a bit more 'real'. It's very easy to get excited with ghost stories, but when you realise the anxiety and terror it can cause it does make you think.
Overall I do recommend this book, if not to introduce people to the possibility of the supernatural and paranormal, then for some additional information from a new angle for us old hands (while we bitch about the journalist's occasional ignorance - though what should we expect from a lad's mag writer?).
+ AVAILABILITY +
Amazon.co.uk - £5.99 (from £2 used and new from marketplace)
Amazon.com - $11.13 (from $11.13 used and new on marketplace too)
Waterstones.com - £5.99 for reprint with updates, etc., £10.99 for first edition with no updates, etc.
It was the reprint that Mum loaned me, which had a handy wee update on some of the folk featured.
I've noticed some folk seem to include the ISBN number for books, which is really something I should have been doing since I did my work experience in a library (and Mum used to be a librarian - guess where I get my love of reading from...).
+ LINKS, ETC. - CONTINUE YOUR QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE! +
www.willstorr.co.uk - Author's official site
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enfield_Poltergeist - a wee bit about the Enfield Poltergeist, with a link to a documentary on it
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_Haunted#Controversy - part of an article about Most Haunted, one or two good links
I can't be bothered putting anymore.
Cheers for lasting this long! :)
© bandcamp 2007, plagiarists and Derek Acorah need not apply