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Ghostland review

A brief review I've published on the Goodreads site of an interesting recent book. It's relevant to a critique of hauntology that I'm currently working on ...


Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted CountryGhostland: In Search of a Haunted Country by Edward Parnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a haunted and haunting book haunted by its own absences. The personal story it relates is moving and borne out of cycles of family tragedy. Yet this aspect of the book is sometimes at odds with the collective "haunted country" it seeks to describe and sometimes prevails over it. Ultimately, this is somewhat more of a personal and family memoir than a work of cultural and landscape analysis.

The author's knowledge of ghostly fictions and the landscapes that have inspired them is not to be doubted. Yet oddly this knowledge sometimes promises more than it delivers. More than once, when he seems about to "grasp the nettle" and confront the dreadful "it" that animates a particular story, he seems to pull back or to let it escape back into the metaphorical mist. This may be because of the way the fictions he explores are bound up with his own grief and to that extent this hesitancy is understandable. However, for the reader it can sometimes be tantalising as they are left on the brink, having to extrapolate what "it" might or could have been.

The choice of works and landscapes is expert, yet the descriptions of them often remain at surface level, not going far into the depths. His near-forensic analysis of W.G. Sebald's work separates fact from fiction very effectively and is painstaking. This contrasts with other sections such as that describing the 1979 Quatermass TV series, which does little more than summarise the plot, leaving the reader to infer it significance. In this sense, Parnell often maps out paths for future cultural analysis that it would have been interesting to see him navigate himself. In a sense, this fits the "hauntological" English zeitgeist of recent years (which has surely aided the publication of a book such as this). Much of the music and writing produced under this banner promises a level of engagement with the uncanny that's it's ultimately unwilling or unable to deliver.

Despite these reservations, this is a deeply sincere and sometimes visionary book, structured and guided by grief and loss.

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