Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: The Tractate Middoth by M.R. James

More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary:
by M. R. James
Edward Arnold & Co. (1911)

Mr. John Eldred is looking for a book in a library. The book is Tractate Middoth from the Talmud. A library assistant, Mr. Garret, helps Mr. Eldred to find the book, but a man is reading the Tractate:

‘It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs.’ (page 58)

Mr. Garrett is shocked from the reader of the Tractate and he is forced to stay at home. Before Mr. Garrett returned to work at the library, the librarian wanted that he takes a week’s rest. Mr. Garrett leaves for a village on the sea.

In train he met a landlady, Mrs. Simpson and her daughter. Mrs Simpson had apartments empty at that season, so Mr. Garrett decides to take one.
An evening, during their talk, Mrs Simpson is very interested in Mr. Garrett’s job as librarian. The Simpson’s decide to ask for help to Mr. Garrett: the women have to find a book where inside could be the will of their uncle. The only clue is a number that sounds familiar to Mr. Garrett: it is the number of the book that Mr. Eldred was looking for. Another interesting clue for Mr. Garrett is that Mr. Eldred is Mrs. Simpson’s cousin.

Mr. Eldred is the first to find the mysterious book, but when he is searching for the will in the book:
‘something black seemed to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and then as Eldred started and was turning to look behind him, a little dark form appeared to rise out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it two arms enclosing a mass of blackness came before Eldred’s face and covered his head and neck.’ (page 79)

The story has a good plot and M.R. James is a master to insert the ghost’s passages only when needed, so to keep the reader’s curiosity high.

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