Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley
Uncle Montague lives alone in a big house and his regular visits from his nephew give him the opportunity to retell some of the most frightening stories he knows. But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all. Uncle Montague's tales of terror, it transpires, are not so much works of imagination as dreadful, lurking memories. Memories of an earlier time in which Uncle Montague lived a very different life to his present solitary existence.
Once again, a children's horror novel has drawn me in and terrified me out of my wits. A disclaimer on the back advises: This is a seriously scary book - younger readers be warned! How young are we talking, here? Seriously? I am twenty-five years old and would never dream of allowing anyone of a nervous disposition to read this book, never mind a child! The stories are paralysing.
Priestley is an excellent writer. Uncle Montague's stories crop up each time his nephew, Edgar, notices a new object in his strange study, in his strange house. Uncle Montague will then relate the story behind the object to Edgar, and then leaves us in absolute wonder as to why the object ended up in that study. The plot flows along really well in this way, and I was filled with an odd hybrid of excitement and terror wondering which object's story would be recounted next.
The prose is relatively simple, being aimed at a younger audience, but I really felt it added to the charm. Bare descriptions led to stark similes, which ultimately led to me being one scared stiff wee girl. Priestley holds all of the stories together with the same strange feeling of unsettling dread; the atmosphere he creates is terrific. It's so beautifully gothic that you can't help but feel immediately uncomfortable. It's edge of the seat, looking over your shoulder writing, and it's wonderful.
The illustrations throughout the book, by David Roberts, didn't do much to help my nerves. They were utterly chilling, matching Priestley's prose perfectly, and adding to the atmosphere of the book considerably. Turning to an illustrated page was a gamble in case I squealed out loud in sheer fright.
I particularly liked that each of Uncle Montague's tales were cautionary. Never again will I wander about where I shouldn't be, speak to strangers, play hide and seek, and I will always remember to listen to those wiser than me. Things are out to get us.
Although I am very easily frightened, and a nervous individual when it comes to the supernatural, I genuinely would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of ten. The stories are genuinely frightening, albeit marvellous. It's Edgar Allen Poe for kids. If you are a suspicious individual who actually enjoys being shocked to the core, this one is for you. It's quite short, but will hold you in its grip until you are a quivering wreck.