Blakeborough’s Book Club: 20th Century Ghosts

Its been mentioned here…somewhere… and on our Facebook group and now the time for me to unveil the very first month of my Book Club. Ta-dah!!

And the first book is… Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts!! Woo! Although you should already know this, as I’m hoping some people have actually read it with me. Never mind if you haven’t this time, but I’m hoping that my ramblings will become shorter and shorter as the months go on, and we get a larger number of people adding their chosen number of eggs.

Anyway, we’ve spoken of Mr Hill before, beardy faced offspring of Stephen King and rather fine writer who has already proved himself with Locke and Key and Heart Shaped Box. Here he is:

So, 20th Century Ghosts I believe was his first publication (or at least major release) and was revealed to the world in 2005, presenting a collection of short stories, largely in the Horror vein, but not always. Each story for me is a perfect example of capsulized writing in that he manages to introduce characters, backstory, interesting event and conclusion in sometimes little more than three pages.

One of the longer stories in this collection, the 23 page ‘Pop Art’ is my favourite by a long shot, and one of the best examples of a short story I have read for a long time. It tells the tale of a young boy with a congenital condition which means that he is made of plastic and is inflatable. Although at first I admit to thinking this was a bit gimmicky, Hill makes this sound as plausible as possible by thinking of the little details. Of course “inflatable Hebrew” Arthur Roth wouldn’t be able to speak and would need to use a pad and a crayon to write things down (pencils are a hazard), of course his sense of gravity would be different to ours; he has normal human parents too. We hear of Arthur’s life at school, the bullying, the everyday threats to his life until he gets accidentially locked in a hot car and begins to melt, all through the eyes of his best friend.  After the incident in the car, Arthur is never the same again and asks to find out “if the sky really does open up at the top” and takes off into the wild blue yonder tied to a helium balloon. They later find his poor deflated body washed up on a beach. His best friend later goes on to marry an inflatable girl and keeps every scrap of paper Arthur wrote on as a memory of him.

I love it. Although I can’t possibly get across the tone of sadness woven into the story, the fact that I still think about it every so often is a testament to the quality of the story writing. I’ve also just found that it was made into a short film (hence the title image). If anyone can find me a copy (admittedly I havent looked very hard) I will be forever indebited.

The only minor negative point I have about 20th Century Ghosts is that a startling number of the stories had a character making a derogatory and homophobic comment; ‘fags’, ‘fairy’, “I hope you two aren’t queering it up in there” etc. It only jumped out at me because there are 4 or 5 mentions within seperate stories. Not sure whether this was an aside by Joe himself, or whether it is just an astute recognition of the way that some people still speak about homosexuals. I tend to think its the latter, but I’m not sure.

Well, enough from me. Did anyone else manage to read 20th Century Ghosts this month? Favourite story? Comments, criticisms? If anyone does find a copy of ‘Pop Art’ adaptation please feel free to let me know. Over to you, loyal YourFace readers…

UPDATE: Next Month what with the release of Watchmen movie on 6th March we (hopefully both myself and Mr Blackett) will be doing what promises to be a rather long post about the film, the graphic novel and Adaptation in general.

About the Author


Claire is a twenty-something year old lady writer, media whore and technophile. She is yet to find her proper vocation in life and every day brings a new idea. Today? Firewoman or Vampire Slayer. Tomorrow? Who knows. Claire LOVES Doctor Who, Buffy, novels, adaptation, music of all kinds and cheese and dislikes untidiness and un-sanded wood. Stalk her on Twitter @Blakeborough or email [email protected].
  • I absolutely love this book, it is the perfect example of short story telling the characters are developed and each story is unique and quirky. I loath to compare him to his father, but I'm going to any way, I cant stand Stephen Kings shorty stories, I always feel his strength is in novels where he can develop rich worlds full of magic and darkness and his short tales lakc this. Joe Hill however can hold a microscope to any character and tell their tale in just a few pages.

    Pop art is one of my favourites it is odd but beautiful in the way that Tim Burton would be jealous of. I didnt think I could care for the abstract idea of a boy/balloon hybrid but I did, I must admit that I did well up a little at the end.

    For any one who loves horror tales I would reccomend this with out a doubt.
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