Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes
Reading Level: Young Adult
176 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (August 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763630004
ISBN-13: 978-0763630003
Source of Book: ARC from publisher

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes is a collection of interrelated short stories that spans four centuries. The book is based on Edith Wharton's ghost story, "Kerfol," a story about a young Frenchwoman, Anne de Barrigan, who was convicted of murdering her husband. She claimed he was killed by a pack of dogs, except there were no dogs at Kerfol, the name of the mansion where they lived--at least no LIVE dogs. Pretty creepy, huh?

The first story in The Ghosts of Kerfol, "Hunger Moon" is set in 1613 and is a retelling of Wharton's "Kerfol" from the point of view of Perrette, Anne de Barrigan's servant. The second story, "These Heads Would Speak,"set in 1802 is told from the point of view of a young artist visiting the haunted Kerfol. The third story, "The Figure Under the Sheet," is set in 1926 and is told from the point of view of a young aristocrat woman whose family owns the Kerfol estate. The fourth, "When I Love You Best,"set in 1982 tells the story of Meg, a girl who is traveling through Europe with her boyfriend and his twin brother. Kerfol is a stop on their tour, and they have a terrifying experience. The final story, "Red Berries," is set in 2006 and is told from the point of view of a deaf gardener whose father is restoring Kerfol. The characters in stories 2-5 all have ghostly experiences that tie them to the first story.

I was excited to read this book first because I'm a sucker for ghost stories, second because I'm an Edith Wharton fan and was familiar with "Kerfol," and finally because I was intrigued to see how Deborah Noyes would tie everything together. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. After reading the first story, I was really into the book. The story was chilling, the characters were well-developed, and it added a new perspective to the story I'd known for quite a while. However, the second story lacked the details of the first that really drew me in, and I ended it with a lot of questions. While some of these answers were revealed in the fourth story, it just wasn't enough. I didn't feel the chills and spookiness that I felt with the first. I began disliking the characters as I continued to read, and the stories kept getting shorter. In the end, I thought it was a grand idea that just wasn't executed well.

It's extremely difficult to write a short story. In fact, I think it may be more difficult to write a good short story than a good novel because you have a very limited time to draw readers in, get them to know the characters enough to care about what happens to them, and ultimately tell a memorable story that leaves readers satisfied. I'm thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kate Chopin. Who can forget the anxiety of the murderer in Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" that ultimately leads him to a confession?

Aside from the first story in the book, Noyes short stories are mediocre, not very scary, and a bit boring. I applaud her attempt to try something different, to weave stories together through the ages, but it just didn't work for me.

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