Review: Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror, Chris Priestley

Though short stories — which is what Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is, short stories with a frame device — are not generally my thing, the genre of short story most likely to please me is horror. (Ghost horror, not serial killer horror. Ghosts are imaginary, but serial killers are very real, and terrifying.) I ordinarily discount short story books unless they are pressed on me by friends who are sure they can change my mind about short stories (they can’t), but the horror thing and the thin, weird, slightly Goreyish illustrations made me decide to give Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror a try.

Edward enjoys going to visit his Uncle Montague, who lives in a big old house full of strange and mysterious objects, all of which seem to have frightening stories attached to them. Edward assumes that his uncle is just trying to scare him, but as the evening wears on, he is forced to confront the possibility that the stories of horrors that befall selfish children might be true.

To my joy, I enjoyed these stories. I like how everyone in them dies. Okay, not everyone, but many of them! Because, you know. Death to naughty children, that’s the name of the game. The other notable strength of the collection — and something I tend to love in all stories but especially horror ones — is how you think you know what’s going on and it’s X. And then TWIST!, you find out that all along what’s really been going on the whole time was Y.

(Cf. Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching. When the house — highlight if you have read White Is for Witching already because otherwise this will mess up a quite chilling moment in the book and will make no sense to you — says “Africa? Really”, it just sends chills up my spine.)

These are stories for children, but that doesn’t stop them from being quite frightening. If I had read them when I was a little kid I would probably never have slept again. I was a timid child. Luckily I am much braver now because it has become clear to me that ghosts & demons & monsters are pretend, and now I only have to worry about serial killers, none of which occur in the pages of Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror.

Others who reviewed it include: things mean a lot, Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, The Written World, Stainless Steel Droppings, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Fleur Fisher in her World, My Favourite Books, Polishing Mud Balls, All about {n}. Tell me if I missed yours!

  • I enjoyed this book, too. I want to read more by him but it just hasn’t happened….

    • I’m going to! At some point. I have so many library books on my Kindle right now it’s ridiculous. :p

  • Ooh, I like stories that are all, “X! X is happening! No, wait, I’m LYING TO YOU, here’s Y!” They bring me joy, especially when I actually fall for X (which, alas, is seldom. I’m a crappy reader).

    This does sound like the sort of thing that would’ve scared me when I was a kid. I once read once of those Scary Story anthologies and it left me with a true and deep terror that a vampire would someday come and peer in my bedroom window while I was asleep. Never mind that I slept on the second floor, or that the story wasn’t actually all that scary. It still terrified me.

    • You’re not a crappy reader! You’re like the perfect reader. The writers don’t want you anticipating their reveals, then they’d feel like they’d been super obvious about what was going to happen.

      I would have cried if I’d read this book as an actual child. I can only read it now because I’m very much older and have become clear on the fact that ghosts aren’t real

      • Oh, no, I phrased that wrong. I meant I always anticipate the reveals, and my guesses are usually right, so everything seems super obvious to me and I end up being grumpy about it. Then I wonder if it actually was obvious all along, or if I’m just some kind of storyguessing genius.

        Except on those rare, wonderful occasions when the author manages to trick me. I love it when an author tricks me.

  • These stories are for kids? Oh dear me. No, no, no; scary is no good.

    • Aw, but you had us. Other people have less scaredy-cat children.

  • It is good to have you back!

    • Thank you! It’s good to be back!

  • I would have loved to have read these when I was a kid. Fortunately I have some good nostalgic memories of reading ghost stories with Edward Gorey illustrations in my childhood that may not have been quite as sinister, but were still very eerie. So when I first read this it was like going back in time and connecting with those memories. I’m a big fan of short stories in general but most short story collections are not as effective as this one is in telling a complete tale. I hope you get a chance to read the other two at some point, they are good as well. Though this remains my favorite of the three. So pleased that you enjoyed it as it is one of my favorite RIP experiences.

    • Oh, good to know this one’s the best! Then I can go into the other ones without sky high expectations — that’s never easy for a book to live up to!

      • That is probably a good idea, though I have no doubt you’ll enjoy the other two. I consider this the best because I liked the framing story the best of all three framing stories. The individual tales are every bit as creepy. The least of all three for me was the second book and even then I liked it very much. You have me aching to re-read these. May have to pull them out to read aloud to the family in October.

  • zibilee

    Oh, this does sound promising, and like something that I would read. I love the way you get so excited that everyone dies. Your perspective on books is very cool. I am so glad that you started blogging again. I really missed your viewpoint!

    • Thanks! You are so kind! I’m excited to be back. 😀

  • “To my joy, I enjoyed these stories. I like how everyone in them dies.”

    lol lol lol lol lol

    • IT IS TRUE. I am slightly morbid. That’s why I like the folk songs where everyone dies also. Those are the ones I always want to learn to play on my guitar. 😀