Filler content with ghostly lovers

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #32:-

Lisa Tuttle
Sarob Press hb, 147pp, £23

This volume brings together thirteen stories from the last twenty years of Tuttle’s career, most linked, as the title would suggest, by a common theme of love, romance, relationships etc. Tuttle is not interested in the paranormal per se, but in ‘the relationship between people and their ghosts’, what the haunting, regardless of the form it takes, reveals about the person being haunted and those around them.

As an example take ‘Mr Elphinstone’s Hands’, in which a young woman gains the ability to exude ectoplasm after brief contact with a medium, even fashion human figures out of the material, but her family are horrified by what they regard as illness, a curse, and so for Eustacia too this marvellous talent becomes tainted, worse than useless. In ‘The Extra Hour’ a woman wishes for more time to practise her writing and discovers a door into another realm where time moves at a slower pace, but the relationships formed there imperil her life in the real world and ultimately she is forced to choose between conflicting responsibilities. Seeking a solution to her problems she has only uncovered yet another dilemma. ‘Manskin, Womanskin’ has two people who can only consummate their love by wearing gossamer body suits, but their artificially induced moments of passion only serve to exacerbate the very real problems elsewhere in the relationship, while in ‘The Walled Garden’ a woman is gifted a vision of her ideal partner, but this hint of future bliss prevents her achieving happiness in the here and now, as she holds out for what may never be. In ‘Haunts’ a group of friends try to create a haunted house using sound waves, but the project leads one of them to obsession and another to love. ‘White Lady’s Grave’ brings a local legend to life and offers a woman the chance of an immortal love if she can only believe, find inside of herself a faith strong enough to dispel the illusion of the everyday, while in ‘Turning Thirty’, the only non-supernatural story in the book, the protagonist experiences her whole past life as some sort of ghostly visitation, calling into question all her values. ‘From Another Country’ has a young woman given the ability to vanquish Death, but destiny has something else entirely in mind for her.

Tuttle’s stories are seldom easy, but they reward the reader’s perseverance. Rich in psychological acuity and character observation, each one is an object lesson in economy of style and effect, a far cry from most supernatural horror with its love of excess. Ghosts & Other Lovers is worth the attention of any reader interested in the form. And don’t be put off by the price. Sarob’s production values are impressive, with cover artwork and interior illustrations by Paul Lowe, while small print means we get far more by way of content than the low page count might suggest.

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