Book review

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley (2007)

Home life for Edgar is a teeny bit dull.

I was an only child and my parents were not comfortable around children. My father tried his best, putting his hand on my shoulder and pointing various things out to me, but when he had run out of things to point at, he was overcome with a kind of sullen melancholy and left the house to go shooting alone for hours. My mother was of a nervous disposition and seemed unable to relax in my company, leaping to her feet with a small cry whenever I moved, cleaning and polishing everything I touched or sat upon.

So it’s no wonder really that he takes to visiting his Uncle Montague in the school holidays. His uncle seems to have plenty of time for him.

Uncle and I were very fond of one another in our way, but we both knew what had brought me: hunger – hunger for stories.
‘Sit yourself down, young fellow,’ he said (as he always did). ‘I’ll ring and see if Franz will consent to bring us some tea and cakes.’

...and this is where our story really begins because nothing about Uncle Montague or his house or gardens or even manservant Franz could possibly be described as normal or comfortable. It’s a surprisingly jittery walk through the woods up to the big house stalked as he is by the village children. It’s darkly candle-lit inside and breath-freezing, and there is always a kind of distant scampering about the house that sounds almost like children. But Uncle Montague’s study is comfortable enough and contains all kinds of interesting objects.

‘Your journey here was uneventful, I trust?’ he asked.
‘Yes, Uncle,’ I said.
‘You saw...nothing – in the woods?’
Uncle Montague often asked this question, and my reply was always the same.
‘No, Uncle,’ I said, not seeing the need to mention the village children, as I could not imagine they would be of interest to a man like my uncle. ‘I did not see anything in the woods.’
My uncle smiled strangely and nodded, taking a sip of tea.

Anyway, without a doubt Uncle Montague tells some of the best scary stories I’ve ever heard. And the strange thing is, every tale he tells seems to connect to one of the curious objects displayed in his study. Gradually Edgar starts to make connections ... and ask himself difficult questions, like just exactly who is his Uncle Montague? And how much does he actually know about the whispering children?

Uncle Montague smiled from the shadows at the look of horror I no doubt wore...

Brilliant. You can read one tale of terror a night for a very long week and frighten yourself to death in the comfort of your own home.

What can I read next?

Chris Priestley’s confident matter-of-fact style rather reminds me of Neil Gaiman. And Coraline is the most terrifying children’s book I have ever read. (It’s those button eyes.)

If you would like to meet some other really weirdly difficult relations you might like to have a look at this story by Leander Deeny: Hazel’s Phantasmagoria

Holly Black and Toni DiTerlizzi have written the best story ever about goblins and how to avoid a grisly fate: The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone.

Philip Pullman has written a couple of short and gruesome stories that will live with you long after you close the book covers:

And if you just fancy a wild and edgy modern folk tale, you will really enjoy this one by Katherine Rundell: The Wolf Wilder.

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