The Canterville Ghost is a ghost story with a difference. It takes place in an English country house, Canterville Chase, which for centuries has been said to be haunted. When a rich American called Mr Otis moves into the house with his wife and children, Lord Canterville feels he should warn them about Sir Simon, the resident ghost. However, the Otis family aren’t afraid of ghosts and no matter how hard Sir Simon tries, they simply refuse to be frightened!
For anyone reading this review and thinking this book is not for you because you’re scared of ghost stories, I can promise you that it’s really not scary at all – I would describe it as more of a comedy and a clever satire. Wilde juxtaposes an atmospheric gothic setting, the typical British ‘haunted house’, with a practical American family who have an amusing way of reacting to the appearance of Sir Simon.
Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.
“My dear sir,” said Mr. Otis, “I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator.”
Wilde is clearly having fun creating British and American stereotypes and using them to explore cultural differences, though he does it in a witty and inoffensive way. Another thing I liked is that some of the story is told from the ghost’s perspective, so that our sympathy is with him rather than the Otis family.
Although the ending is a bit too sweet and sentimental, I really enjoyed this unusual little book! It’s funny, imaginative, and so easy to read it’s suitable for younger readers as well as adults.
(As a side note, I read this book on Saturday 16th October, which happened to be Oscar Wilde’s 156th birthday. I had no idea of this until after I’d finished the book, turned on my laptop and saw that Google were honouring the occasion with a Google Doodle. Very appropriate!)