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The Ghosts of Kerfol

Review

The Ghosts of Kerfol

THE GHOSTS OF KERFOL presents five new tales based on a ghost story by Edith Wharton. The book begins with a narration of the original events as told by a household maid. The house is kept under the absolute control of its master, Yves de Cornault. While he carefully maintains the appearance of generosity and goodwill with his neighbors, the household is run with severity, and none suffers more than his new wife Anne. Isolated in the country manor with no company, her every move is monitored by her husband and the household staff.

Noticing her loneliness, and eager to display his wealth, Yves brings Anne a little dog. Anne dotes on the pooch and even gives it some of her jewels to wear as its collar.

"You look like my great-grandmother, Juliane de Cornault, lying in the chapel with her feet on a little dog," her husband says.

"Well, when I am dead you must put me beside her, carved in marble with my dog at my feet," she responds.

"Oho --- we'll wait and see!" he says, reminding her that the dog is the emblem of fidelity.

"And do you doubt my right to lie with mine at my feet?" she asks.

"When I am in doubt, I find out," he says. "I am an old man...and people say I make you lead a lonely life. But I swear you shall have your monument if you earn it."

"And I swear to be faithful," she says, "if only for the sake of having my little dog at my feet."

Then one day, while her husband is away on one of his long trips, one of the neighboring nobles --- Herve de Lanrivain --- visits to tell her he is going abroad on a perilous mission. He asks for a token to take with him, so she gives him her little dog's jeweled collar.

When her husband returns, he notices that the collar is gone. Afraid to tell him about her visitor, she says that she lost the collar and even has the maids search for it in the meadow.

That evening she discovers her little dog dead on her pillow. It had been strangled with the jeweled collar that her husband had somehow retrieved.

Thereafter, any dog she attempts to keep, even those belonging to servants or neighbors to which she might give attention in passing, is strangled and left in her bed.

Growing increasingly desperate and fearing for her life, she receives a note from Herve de Lanrivain telling her he will present himself at her home that evening. Having no way to warn him about her husband, she attempts to sneak out of the house to meet him.

This is when she hears her husband coming after her, cursing, followed by "a terrible scream and a fall," then dogs snarling and panting, "like the noise of a pack when the wolf is thrown to them --- gulping and lapping."

Anne is found in a blood-soaked nightgown, there are bloody handprints on the wall, and her husband is dead and savaged in a pool of his own blood. The court determines she is mad; she is locked in a tower at Kerfol for the remainder of her days, "a harmless madwoman."

In Edith Wharton's original, from which the previous excerpts have been taken, the story is narrated by a gentleman interested in buying the home who experiences the strange manifestation of an absolutely silent and forbidding pack of dogs. Deborah Noyes's reworking brilliantly uses phrases from Wharton's original while fleshing out the events into a more detailed tale of terror.

When asked in court why she hoped Herve de Lanrivain would rescue her from her situation, Anne replies, "Because I was afraid for my life.... Because he had strangled my dogs." We know now that the torture of animals is one of the telltale signs of a sadistic --- even psychotic --- personality. But in Anne's world, this kind of behavior is considered within the realm of acceptable behavior. Both Wharton's original tale and Noyes's reworking include the following:

"Another round of bemused murmuring circled the courtroom. Noblemen had the right to hang their peasants --- and most exercised it --- so pinching a pet animal's windpipe was nothing to make a fuss about."

It is these darker undertones --- domestic violence, class warfare and the loyalty of pets from beyond the grave (pets who do not discriminate on the basis of class or sex) --- that give resonance to Wharton's tale. Ghost stories provide a way to discuss things that go unacknowledged by the light of day. THE GHOSTS OF KERFOL explores these themes in detail. Fidelity and betrayal stalk each of the stories. They are woven together so tightly --- and so obscurely --- that the book has to be read in full before the connections between the tales start to reveal themselves. Anne's maid from the first story appears as a vision to an artist in the second story. The portrait he paints of the ghost is displayed to tourists in the fourth story. The jewels choose their second victim in the form of a Jazz Age heiress in the second story.

Noyes fleshes out the story and its characters, and adds an extra dose of weird to the original tale. Yves doesn't just kill animals, but in fact murders peasants and possibly his neighbor, Herve de Lanrivain. The note Anne receives from Herve may in fact be a plot on the part of her husband to catch her being unfaithful. The white-shirted figure toward whom she runs in the night may in fact be a ghost himself. Furthermore, it is possible that each of the characters see each other across time. The artist may be painting a portrait of Anne, her maid, or of the Jazz Age heiress who has yet to be born and murdered. All through the stories, dogs --- both living and dead --- offer the final verdict on what and whom may be trusted.

Edith Wharton --- although a great writer of ghost stories herself --- admitted that "till I was twenty-seven or -eight, I could not sleep in a room with a book containing a ghost story, and that I have frequently had to burn books of this kind, because it frightened me to know they were downstairs in the library." While I would not recommend burning this book, I would recommend reading THE GHOSTS OF KERFOL for these same reasons Wharton gives. The fifth story about a deaf workman who "hears" the ghosts scared me so much I had to put the book down and go eat a pickle to revive my sense of the ordinary. In my opinion, this is the highest praise one can give a ghost story. It captured my imagination enough to frighten me a little while I was reading it, but continued to haunt my thoughts long after I had finished the book.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on May 25, 2010

The Ghosts of Kerfol
by Deborah Noyes

  • Publication Date: May 25, 2010
  • Genres: Gothic, Short Stories, Suspense
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763648256
  • ISBN-13: 9780763648251