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Haunted chateau

There is a collection of short stories by the author Gerald Durrell, entitled The Picnic and Other Pandemonium. The final tale within this otherwise humorous, even farcical compilation – is a delightfully macabre piece entitled The Entrance. 

The Entrance is, quite simply, one of the most unsettling pieces of literature that I have ever read. It was also the first story I read to really scare the pants off me. As such, it will always have a special place in my affection.

The story is framed by the author’s account of how he came to be in possession of the manuscript. In fact, everything about the presentation of this story leads the reader to question whether in truth it is merely a piece of fiction.

Durrell has maximised this tale’s potential for creating fear. It is in stark contrast to the light, humorous stories which precede it and this serves to shock and unsettle the reader. This story, framed with a ‘real world’ introduction and closing passage, is further made to feel real by its inclusion amidst stories which are accounts of true events.

What is more unsettling for a reader of horror, than the possibility that the story they are reading may be true? We are wrong footed and uncertain of the tale’s veracity and Durrell continues to build the tension through his introduction – darkly hinting at the horror’s to come.

The story is definitely original, though it has enough of the classic haunted house tale to ensure that its reinvention of the cliché serves to further unsettles the reader. One framing element contains another and as the author of the manuscript recounts his tale – we know his fate is inevitable and inescapable.

I don’t want to give the plot of this story away – because I really want you (yes *you*) to read this. And it would be a travesty to spoil it for you. In the vaguest of terms this is the story of a man, isolated in a gothic chateau and the mysterious horrors he encounters within the house. This is not a traditional ghost story. It hints at the existence of other worlds, and the barrier between us is brittle and fragile. Gerald Durrell takes us through a glass darkly and he does not compromise on his ending. The oppressive sense of tension and unease that pervades this story is impressive. There is something that really gets under your skin, something genuinely nasty and malevolent in this tale.

I first read this story when I was very young and on two subsequent re-reads I must confess that each time it scares me less. But I notice something new on each occasion, and measure my progress as a ghost story buff through my reaction to it. On this occasion I noticed the heavy and respectful nod to MR James. I appreciated it more as a cold and lonely gothic horror and pondered longer over the uncompromising ending.

When you read this story you will wonder why you have never heard of it before. And you’ll certainly never forget it.