Review: Night Side of the River - Jeanette Winterson
Genre: Short stories, Literary horror
Published: Atlantic Grove Press, October 24t 2023
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
With a seasoned name like Jeanette Winterson attached to it, I have to admit I went into this collection with high expectations. Winterson’s beautiful prose and keen eye for detail, combined with a take on one of my favourite tropes (literary ghost-stories!) was bound to be a hit. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite live up to my self-imposed hype. A scatter-brained introduction set the tone for what felt like somewhat of an inconsistent collection that lacked coherence beyond the theme of “ghosts”.
The collection opens with an opening word, in which Winterson explains her inspiration for this collection, and mentions many classics of the genre, without going into depth on any of it. To me, the introduction read like a first draft, namedropping some of its influences as if to make sure the reader will pick up on the references later, without adding any real new insight to them.
What follows are 13 ghoststories (in the loose sense of the word), clustered into 4 categories. Devices features Black-Mirror-esque stories about “ghosts in the machine” and the way technology has changed the meaning in which we can interact with a person after their passing. In Places, we visit the classic Haunted Houses and locations harbouring memories and restless souls, whereas in People it’s the people inside the walls carrying their hauntings, rather than the walls themselves. Finally inVisitations we follow journeys to significant places and events, mostly from the authors own life, where she came close to “haunting” encounters. In between each section, there’s another personal essay or anecdote from Winterson life, the addition of which I probably liked the most. My biggest problem is that, outside these personal anecdotes, everything about this collection felt very familiar and “done before”. The many references to classics only emphasized that there was nothing new to be gained here for veterans of the gerne. I also missed the strong narrative voice that carried Winterson’s previous novels for me.
The two most memorable stories of the collection for me were No Ghost Ghost Story and The Undiscovered Country. Otherwise, this felt very middle-of-the-road. For a debut author, this would’ve been a promising start, but for a literary veteran like Winterson, I have to say that it was less than I expected.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Altantic Grove for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.