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Publisher's Summary

Though best known for his classic novel of Edwardian childhood The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley was also a master of supernatural and macabre fiction, the best of which is collected in The Travelling Grave and Other Stories.

This volume demonstrates Hartley's versatility, ranging from traditional ghost stories like "Feet Foremost" and "The Cotillon" to the wonderfully black humor of the horror masterpieces "The Travelling Grave" and "The Killing Bottle". Originally published in 1948 and long out of print, this collection features 12 of Hartley's best tales.

©1948, 2017 The Estate of L.P. Hartley (P)2017 Valancourt Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

Narrator Guy Bethell deftly renders these supernatural and macabre stories, originally published in 1948. In "Podolo," the standout, Bethell's mature voice and conversational style describe a couple who go to an island near Venice. When they see a starving feral cat, the woman decides she'll either capture it or kill it. The conclusion is eerie in its uncertainty. In the title story, Richard Mount sounds cruel as he suggests a game of hide-and-seek to his guests. As the game progresses, they become uncertain whether an oblong container is a bathtub or a coffin, and listeners will share their foreboding. In "Cotillon," a masked ball gives a humiliated man an opportunity for revenge. Bethell's spirited narration keeps listeners on edge to the last moment. S.G.B. © AudioFile                              

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Evoking the Unspeakable

Would you listen to The Travelling Grave and Other Stories again? Why?

Probably not. While I enjoyed the experience as a novelty, I find I prefer to read books at my own pace, reread passages w/ ease, & often make marginal notes (I'm a teacher of English).

Who was your favorite character and why?

I don't think that in this volume anyway, Hartley creates any particularly likable characters. There are some we can sympathize with (e.g. Marion in "The Cotillon" or the watchman in "Night Fears") but hardly like as we might, say, Ishmael in *Moby-Dick.* The pleasure lies rather in the language and the tensions of the situations created.

Which scene was your favorite?

Where in "Feet Foremost." literally out of the blue, the plane crashes & Maggie finds herself in a situation analogous to one waiting for an organ transplant that will save the beloved's life - provided the victim of the accident dies ...

If you could rename The Travelling Grave and Other Stories, what would you call it?

Either "Podolo and Other Stories" or "The Killing Bottle and Other Stories." Probably the latter, since it would catch the eye of one unfamiliar with L.P. Hartley.

Any additional comments?

A collection of tales of very British horror largely but not exclusively involving ghosts or other supernatural phenomena, The Travelling Grave is written in lucid, nimble prose, rich in the exact descriptive details needed to concisely nail scene or atmosphere, and with a sense of humor at times quite delightful (e.g. “A Change of Ownership”), at others broadly satirical (“Three or Four for Dinner”). Doubles, animate shadows hugging material bodies, constitute a recurrent motif, whether demonic-animalistic (“Podolo”), tantalizingly Christlike (“Three or Four for Dinner,” again), or vengeful-spectral (“Feet Foremost”). Denouements are almost never spelled out: L.P. Hartley works through suggestion, leaving the reader to imagine what on some occasions are truly horrific scenarios, with the title story, “The Travelling Grave,” being a case in point. Frightening touches can build slowly—or quite suddenly, as in “The Cotillon,” where the explanation we then think we’ve worked out before the characters runs into 10 more minutes of surprises.

I was surprised to see Leon van Schoonneveldt’s critique of Guy Bethell’s reading-style, delivered in an Oxbridge accent appropriate to Hartley’s background. I got pretty much every word, rarely having to go back to listen a second time. Characters within each tale, moreover, are clearly differentiated by accent and timbre, and Mr. Bethell’s voice is perfectly attuned—in terms of both cadence and tempo—to the moment-by-moment requirements of the story, the tour de force here being “Feet Foremost,” also the piece that most richly mines the potential for the ghastly in commonplace dilemmas. In my impression, Mr. Bethell has put professional care and literary sensitivity into both preparing to read and reading this audiobook, and no small amount of pleasure awaits future listeners.

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  • Leon van Schoonneveldt
  • 01-10-18

Fine stories - less than ideal performer

Any additional comments?

I like British ghost stories from the early part of the twentieth century and some of Hartley's macabre tales collected here are among the best of their kind. Valancourt is to be greatly commended for their new edition of this classic collection - and especially for publishing an audiobook version of it as well! Audible's catalogue can't contain enough of such short stories.

I also like my ghosly tales to be performed by an elderly male voice with an accent from the British isles - I don't know why exactly, but there you have it. Derek Jacobi reading M.R. James' ghost stories on two BBC collections; Simon Callow on Audible's free Christmas gift of 2017 - that's the way to do a good, old-fashioned spook story in my book.

Performer Guy Bethell fits that bill of an an elderly male voice with British accent nicely, but unfortunately he is hardly in Jacobi's or Callow's league as an actor/performer. (But then again, who is?) Most damningly, however, is that his pronunciation is very careless and sloppy throughout - whole syllables are mumbled or held back altogether. This makes the listening experience not nearly as enjoyable as it could have been, and non-native speakers of English should definitely be prepared to be forced to make an extra effort of concentration when listening to these stories as performed by Bethell.

So, all in all: fine collection of stories, let down by a less than fine performer. Let's hope Valancourt makes a better casting choice for their next collection of classic British ghost stories. There's a wealth of great material out there - all out of copyright - and with a first-rate reader performing them, we'd be in for a real treat!

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