Book Review: Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories by Robert Hood

peripheral-visions-hb-180dpi“Peripheral Visions explores twisted realities, life after death, and the phantoms of troubled minds.”

Peripheral Visions is a vast, 44-strong collection of the collected ghost stories to date of Australian author Robert Hood. Hood may not be a household name amongst British horror fans, but the quality of the stories in this book (available as a single volume ebook  or hardback, or as a multi-volume paperback) fully justifies such an ambitious retrospective.

The stories are ordered not chronologically but according to six loose themes: ‘Haunted Places’; ‘Haunted Families’; ‘Haunted Minds’; ‘Haunted Youth’ (a selection of ghost stories aimed at younger readers); ‘Haunted Vengeance’ and ‘Haunted Realities’.

Although billed as a collection of ghost stories, the contents of Peripheral Visions are more varied than that might imply; some tales here do follow loosely in the Jamesian tradition, but there are also plenty where the ‘ghost’ in the tale is more subtle or enigmatic. Whilst ‘haunted’ is the word to describe many of Hood’s protagonists, they aren’t just haunted by spooks: the stories in Peripheral Visions explore twisted realities, life after death, and the phantoms of troubled minds.

An examination of some of the stories in one specific section will give some idea as to this collection’s range. ‘Haunted Families’ opens with ‘Grandma and the Girls’, a story that seems to owe something to Robert Aickman’s sly tales. It is a story about matriarchal dominance over an entire family across generations; everyone lives by Grandma’s rules and is terrified of disobeying her, even when she confines herself to her room and is heard rather than seen. But the younger generation are not as much under her spell as the old, and despite the fact they are told not to open the bedroom door. Well, we all know what happens in horror stories when someone is told not to open a door, don’t we? The story’s supernatural elements are left deliberately ambiguous and unexplained but the tale still delivers a powerful and disturbing climax.

In contrast to the claustrophobic and shadowy ‘Grandma and the Girls’, ‘The Shark God Covenant’ takes place on a bright and sunlit Pacific island. This isn’t the only contrast; if the supernatural represented matriarchy dominance in ‘Grandma…’ here it seems to reflect the repressed Oedipal urges of the protagonist, whose father has recently died. It is a tale that combines old folklore with a Freudian undercurrent that becomes more overt as it progresses, and is a world away from the musty hauntings of tradition. ‘Birthmark’ provides a further contrast, being a science-fiction tale about a future world where people have progressed to a non-biological, post-human stage of evolution, leaving such things as negative emotions behind. The protagonist is in charge of which new people are ‘birthed’ which involves being created from the data of humanity’s past. But the old world of human emotions and vengeance cannot be left behind so easily, and the ghost in ‘Birthmark’ is a technological recreation humanity’s past, warts and all.

This impressive variety across the volume as a whole, and as such despite its huge length Peripheral Visions only rarely feels repetitive or predictable. Most readers will no doubt gain the most pleasure from dipping in and out of collection. Every reader will have their favourites, but particular highlights are ‘Necropolis’, ‘Monstrous Bright Tomorrows’, ‘Ego’ and ‘That Old Black Graffiti’, as well as the aforementioned ‘Grandma And The Girls’ and ‘The Shark God Covenant’.

Hood’s style of writing varies across the stories, but he is always aware of the key ingredient of a good ghost story: atmosphere. There’s a palpable sense of mounting tension to the best of these stories and their chilling and sometimes ambiguous climaxes linger in the mind long after reading. As such Peripheral Visions is recommended to all ghost story fans; an embarrassment of riches likely to provide months of reading pleasure.


Publisher: IFWG Publishing Australia

Ebook (824pp)

Release Date: 06 April 2015

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