A real life ghost story – maybe ….

Kate Summerscale is most famous for her book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher which is an investigation of a famous unsolved murder case from 1860 when a young boy was killed at Road Hill House. She looks at the way that the detectives behaved and how the case was handled at the time (spoiler – not well and limited by class considerations) and what we now know about the murder. It was a justified success and a very readable book for anyone interested in social history. I have also read two other titles which she has written – The Wicked Boy which is about an 1895 murder committed by a young boy and how the legal system at the time handled it (spoiler – better than you would assume) and Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace which is about the impact of the difficulty of getting a divorce in Victorian England. I recommend all of these books.

The latest social history book by this author is about something which happened in the late 1930s. At the time the paranormal was taken seriously by a lot of people and there were organisations set up to prove the existence of ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. In The Haunting of Alma Fielding the author follows one case of a woman around whom strange things happen. Objects are thrown and strange noises are heard although she seems to have nothing to do with it. In an effort to get help Alma and her husband approach the newspapers which make it a big story. Eventually the International Institute for Psychical Research are called in and an investigation is led by Nandor Fodor, an Hungarian refugee.

Fodor had lost status in the organisation for exposing too many fakes and not finding enough events that he could certify and prove as being supernatural. He was eager to succeed with Alma and he undertook a series of experiments and an investigation over a period of time to establish the truth. Meanwhile, the activities around Alma became more and more extreme including random items from shops suddenly appearing. Fodor’s investigation became more ruthless and he suggested things that were definitely intrusive and without Alma’s consent. Eventually he came to the conclusion that one of two things was happening – either Alma was cleverly manipulating the investigation and the investigators for motives unknown, or supernatural happenings were occurring in her presence without her knowledge because of some past trauma.

I found this book initially to be difficult to get into because I didn’t believe that Alma’s supernatural happenings were real but everyone involved in the case seemed to have no doubts. As the book continued and the investigations became more rigorous it was fascinating to see the explanations that various people came up with for what was happening. The author has no real conclusions but I think that she has a point that the advent of WW2 and the unreal atmosphere at the time were definitely part of the story. I liked the way that she followed up all the characters into the future and what happened to them was definitely interesting in view of the investigation.

Once I got into this book I did enjoy it a lot. I was fascinated by what the author told us about how supernatural events were investigated and also how they could be faked. This is another excellent insight into recent social history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s