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Reed's Literary Horror Review of 'Unquiet Spirits' Edited by Murray and Smith (2022)

by Reed Alexander 2 months ago in book reviews
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What goes bump in the mind

I'll be perfectly honest with you, ghost stories bore the shit out of me. I used to ghost hunt in my youth and after some pretty freaky stuff in real life, everything written seems quaint. I'm not even particularly excited about haunting movies. Ghosts really just don't do it for me. However, when I heard the premise of this collection, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a copy.

So let me explain why this collection is different. These aren't really ghost stories so much as they are ghost history from other cultures, specifically Asian cultures. That shit right there, I find deeply fascinating. This is a deep dive into what these peoples think ghosts are and why ghosts behave the way they do. It's a manuscript on parapsychology from multiple Asian cultures and the occult just fascinates the fuck out of me. Moreover, it's a hard critical look into the metaphors inside each ghost and their cultural implications.

I think what's really fascinating about these essays is the fact that they have historical and modern context to them. These are the traditions passed on by generations before them, but now land firmly in the laps of modern women who can be critical and introspective of these traditions. They aren't just supersticians, they are stories of cultural relavence that modled the way each of these women were raised, or at the very least effected their rearing. The writer, Eliza Chan, goes into how this affected choosing the date for her wedding. She might not be superstitious, but it is unavoidable for her, in her culture. As she writes, "Superstition sews the seed of doubt."

I have to admit, it's hard for me, as a round eye, to look at these essays critically when they come from such a personal place for all these women. But I guess that's my job as a critic, and to be honest, I loved all of these essays.

So what is it about if it's not exactly about ghost. Every monster from every culture has a historic and social meaning, an origin of sorts that shows you what people were afraid of. This is why these essays of parapsychology are so facinating. I get a look into what people are afraid of and more importantly, why they were afraid of it. There's a reason why the Malaysian people thought up a floating head and entrails that eats babies. More importantly, there's a reason why this specter is also always a woman. From a critical cultureal standpoint, all of these ghosts tell us what these cultures thought of their women.

So each writers takes a unique spin in their essays on why so many of these ghosts and ghouls seem to be personified as women. Their cultures didn't see women as more than eventual mothers, basically a way to make more men who would go on and run their businesses and lord over the household. As one writer, Rena Mason, points out the stories of ghosts were about good women gone wrong and turned evil. Not just evil women, but good women who strayed from their traditions because of having been wronged. They're like cautionary tails about why women should never step out of line. That's a pretty hard line indeed and each writer processed it differently. For some, it was about motherhood, for others about reclaiming their heritage without losing their feminist strength. Every one of these women had encountered ghosts of their own, in their own way.

This book also taught me about a whole bunch of ghosts I ain't never heard of. Like the Kwee Kai, a ghost spawned from an unborn baby. Or the Tisigui, a “substitute-seeking ghost” that tricks others into dying the same way so they have to take its place. I also have to mention that hopping ghosts came up, including one of my favorite movies Mr. Vampire (1985).

I can certainly recommend this book to anyone fascinated by occult history, especially that of other cultures. There is really quite a lot in here to learn only made more potent by the presence of the ghosts represented in these pages. While I can give you a general synopsis of each essay, to really understand it, you'll have to read it yourself.

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About the author

Reed Alexander

I'm the foulmouthed horror movie critic. I post new reviews every Sunday, so stay tuned =D

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