Though best known for his classic novel of Edwardian childhood The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley was also a master of supernatural and macabre fiction, the best of which is collected in The Travelling Grave and Other Stories.
This volume demonstrates Hartley's versatility, ranging from traditional ghost stories like "Feet Foremost" and "The Cotillon" to the wonderfully black humor of the horror masterpieces "The Travelling Grave" and "The Killing Bottle". Originally published in 1948 and long out of print, this collection features 12 of Hartley's best tales.
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Fine stories - less than ideal performer
I like British ghost stories from the early part of the twentieth century and some of Hartley's macabre tales collected here are among the best of their kind. Valancourt is to be greatly commended for their new edition of this classic collection - and especially for publishing an audiobook version of it as well! Audible's catalogue can't contain enough of such short stories.
I also like my ghosly tales to be performed by an elderly male voice with an accent from the British isles - I don't know why exactly, but there you have it. Derek Jacobi reading M.R. James' ghost stories on two BBC collections; Simon Callow on Audible's free Christmas gift of 2017 - that's the way to do a good, old-fashioned spook story in my book.
Performer Guy Bethell fits that bill of an an elderly male voice with British accent nicely, but unfortunately he is hardly in Jacobi's or Callow's league as an actor/performer. (But then again, who is?) Most damningly, however, is that his pronunciation is very careless and sloppy throughout - whole syllables are mumbled or held back altogether. This makes the listening experience not nearly as enjoyable as it could have been, and non-native speakers of English should definitely be prepared to be forced to make an extra effort of concentration when listening to these stories as performed by Bethell.
So, all in all: fine collection of stories, let down by a less than fine performer. Let's hope Valancourt makes a better casting choice for their next collection of classic British ghost stories. There's a wealth of great material out there - all out of copyright - and with a first-rate reader performing them, we'd be in for a real treat!
- Leon van Schoonneveldt