In his introduction, Brown wonders why an avowed rationalist like himself is occasionally drawn to such subject-matter (it's something I've written about in the context of my own stories in the post A Drunken Conversation About Ghost Stories). You can read his thoughts for yourself, but what struck me as interesting was how many of his characters in these stories echoed the same thoughts as they found themselves wrapped up in the irrational and supernatural; for example in the first story (the fabulous The Man Who Never Read Novels) the central character has this to say to the decidedly non-rationalist titular character he meets on a train:
“I'm a rationalist,” Russell said, “a believer in science. I'm also a novelist.”
And of course, the point where Russell says this is exactly at the point where the reader is beginning to doubt the rationality of this particular novelistic world; and at the point, too, where maybe Russell is beginning to doubt it himself... It's a sentence echoed by many of the other characters in these stories. And is it really that odd? Surely the irrational is more frightening for a believer in science, messing as it does with the very fulcrum of his or her beliefs? (Much as The Exorcist is presumably more frightening for a Christian reader.)
Regardless, Ghostwriting is a fine collection of stories, nearly all of which can be read in different ways - as explorations of characters haunted either by the supernatural or purely by their own mental demons. Particular favourites of mine were the aforementioned The Man Who Never Read Novels; Li Ketsuwan, a tale of compulsion and comeuppance set in Thailand; and the superb The Disciples Of Apollo, a story of someone who goes to a remote island facility after being diagnosed with a fatal disease, and which plays it's cards very close to its chest until its explosive last line...
A strong and thought-provoking book, I wolfed this down during a single-train journey, and I am still thinking about many of the stories afterwards. Let's here it for the rationalist horror writers.
Ghostwriting is out now from Infinity Plus - sales links here.