Jeremy Sheldon’s debut novel, The Smiling Affair, is a literary thriller about a melancholic ghost-hunter named Jay Richards. Set variously in San Francisco, North Carolina and Ibiza, this atmospheric tale explores the relationship between love, obsession and memory. The Smiling Affair is published by Jonathan Cape on July 14 2005.
1. Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
Although this isn’t a supernatural novel in the received sense, Pynchon’s hilarious and typically wide-ranging narrative sees its cast of stoners, ninjettes, hippy-chicks and karmic adjusters come up against a multitude other-worldly forces and entities, including a mysterious community of undead called the Thanatoids.
2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The story of this novel’s conception never seems to dull. One night during the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley was sitting on the shore of Lake Geneva with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, two titans of Romantic literature, when Byron dared each of the guests to write a ghost story. That Mary Shelley went on to complete a work as experimental and as insightful as Frankenstein (the only ghost story conceived that famous night to be published) before her 20th birthday is a miraculous achievement.
3. The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James by MR James
As English as redcoats or crumpets, these stories are fascinating to me as exercises in understatement and more engaging for the poise of their sentences than their sense of suspense.
4. Bestiary by Julio Cortazar
Within the pages of these short stories, Cortazar has possibly provided me with the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had as a reader. These come in flashes, those moments where rational explanations for what’s happening jostle for dominance with the superstitious potential of the imagination. Highlights include The Secret Weapons, a tale of ghostly possession, and Circe, a story that investigates whether a beautiful and young widow possesses supernatural powers over the young men of her town.
5. D’Entre Les Morts (Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
It’s hard to read this novel as a piece of independent fiction given the towering reputation of Hitchcock’s Vertigo for which it was the source material. But it’s interesting nonetheless to exchange the film’s brooding San Francisco setting for the novel’s French mise-en-scene and to feel the plot’s effortless sense of inevitability as it progresses towards an ending that will surprise even those familiar with Hitch’s sublime masterpiece.
6. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Just as the idea that Humbert hallucinates his sexual experiences with Delores Haze is a fanciful but nonetheless intriguing reading of Lolita, so is the idea that the ghosts of the Shades influence the narrative of Pale Fire.
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
One of the many things to admire in this novel is Morrison’s communication of the supernatural. This is elusive and bewitching, searching to articulate something beyond the facile issue of whether a ghost in the story does or doesn’t exist.
8. Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling
Written in the late 17th century, Pu Songling’s enigmatic ghost-stories or Liaozhai Zhiyi explore and merge the boundaries between illusion and reality as well as life and death. Most feature one or both of the two central archetypes of Chinese supernatural literature: “fox spirits” and wandering female ghosts desperately searching for love amongst men from the world of the living.
9. Other People by Martin Amis
Given the explicitly ambitious nature of some of his books over the last 15 years or so, Yellow Dog and The Information amongst them, it’s reassuring to remember that Amis Jnr used to turn out short, experimental novels that were both stylistically inventive and savagely cynical. How else can one explain the heroine of this novel’s perpetually unresolved narrative except by considering the idea that she is a ghost?
10. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Yes, it’s a play. But this negative image of Macbeth is still fascinating for presenting us with a hero who plays against type, genre and convention to resist the will of the supernatural in favour of investigating its provenance.