I don’t really read ghost stories. As a child, I didn’t like to be scared, and at sleepovers I would always be the girl begging the other girls to stop telling scary stories. I actually don’t know if I have read anything that would have counted as a ghost story. So when I was reading Margaret Mahy’s The Haunting, and someone said, ‘Ah, you’re reading a ghost story!’ I was a little bit surprised with myself.
But The Haunting doesn’t feel like a ghost story. Sure, there is a ghost of a sort, and a little boy (Barney) being haunted, and suspense over what is happening and what will happen and whether the ghost will continue to haunt Barney, but there is also family dinners, and visiting grandparents, and visits to the swimming pool. There is a unrelentlessly talkative sister, who chatters non-stop, and really, who can be scared when you have someone prattling your ear off about how they will become a famous novelist? So, in all, (thankfully for me – I still don’t really like to be scared), The Haunting isn’t really very scary.
However, while it might not be frightening, it is still pensive. It makes you think. It has family secrets, family history, and family present. I think this is what makes it different from a traditional spooky story. It is the family secrets, and the family history, that makes this book about a haunting. Because, really, Barney is not the only one being haunted. The whole of his family two generations above him are being haunted by memories (and they are almost scarier than a ghost, as you can’t exorcise memories).
I think this is what makes this book so interesting, and so powerful. It is not called The Haunting because it has a ghost in it – at least, not to me it isn’t. It’s about how the family is haunted by the thought of Barney’s great-uncle Barnaby. Now, I don’t want to give too much away, so you will have to read the book yourself to see what I mean. Like all the Margaret Mahy books I’ve read so far, this book took me by surprise at what it contained, and how much I liked it. I should have learnt by now that a Margaret Mahy book is never straightforward…