A boy is put on a train by his stepmother to make his first journey on his own. But soon that journey turns out to be more of a challenge than anyone could have imagined as the train stalls at the mouth of a tunnel and a mysterious woman in white helps the boy while away the hours by telling him stories – stories with a difference.
This book is all kinds of eerie, and while I won’t say it scared me, it did send frequent shivers down my spine. There’s something a little off-setting about it’s style, which disturbs the mind right from the get-go, before a premise is really even introduced. Clever. And that subtle, unnerving feeling continues through a sequence of discomforting short-stories told by a woman to a young-boy, when their train journey comes to an abrupt stop outside the entrance of a tunnel. Interestingly, intermittent between these ghostly fables are snippets of a interaction between the protagonist and his mysterious storyteller, and the two formats of narrative are woven together well: the first person viewpoint of Robert, and the third person perception of the short-stories. We know somethings up, but it’s difficult to determine what, despite all the wonderful little hints dropped surreptitiously along the way, this keeps the tension on a steady increase, forcing you to endure the pleasant creepiness of the tall-tales, to learn the mystery of their teller. Again, clever.
The stories themselves are varied, but not wide in theme. Though most follow a similar pattern of events, they all differ in what I shall term here as “the creep factor”, meaning theres certain to be at least one short-story you’ll find making you shudder. For children these will probably be haunting images, but older and adult readers shouldn’t worry, this isn’t the kind of horror that lingers long after reading. Characterization within these stories isn’t done particularly well, but really the narratives aren’t long enough for much development or revelation anyway, and the foundations for deeper characters is enough in the time-frame to hold our interest. The tales end abruptly, but not without interpretive resolution, and are quickly forgotten in the wake of the next one.
Meanwhile, pictures help to illustrate and escalate the weirdness of the novel, both in style and in story. Monochrome depictions of disturbing scenes, drawn in a pseudo-childlike manner, break up the narrative nicely, and reinforce a Gothic aesthetic which goes along well with the Victorian language of the novel (and short-stories).
Unique is design, simple and subtle in content, this is a tense and spooky read you’ll want to enjoy during the day.
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