Reviewers Note: This is a solicited non-compensated review.
What can I say about Anil Balan’s collection of stories titled Ghosts in the Cloisters? My first impression was that it wasn’t so much a collection of short stories as several vignettes. And through those vignettes I learned more about the college of Oxford and student life (however fictionalized it might have been) than I have ever known. Which makes a certain amount of sense when you realize that the author has chosen to focus on the very storied past of the college. There is surely an abundance of ghost stories to choose from.
While the writing is technically sound, I was rather put out by the abrupt endings and casual way certain things were explained away. Perhaps this stems from what I expect to read when I see the words Ghost Stories. I expect to be frightened, at the edge of my seat, wondering if what the character is seeing is real. Ghost stories are usually based on some event or persons that ended badly. The majority of the pieces in the beginning of Ghosts in the Cloisters seemed to simply be a conveyance of those stories without really connecting to the people telling the story. As a reader you are simply told : This is a stressed student. This is the ghost story. It gives the impression that only stressed college students at Oxford ever see or hear about ghosts around the campus.
As the book continues the pieces do get longer, more involved, and surprisingly have less to do with Oxford. (As far as I can tell at least.) They also hold up more strongly to the ghost story paradigm. I would even go so far as to classify the last 3 or so stories as simply paranormal stories as there is nary a ghost to speak of in sight. I suppose it would come as no surprise that my favorite pieces come from the last half of the book starting with Night Line and ending with the last story Black Linden.
I think I would have enjoyed the collection more if Balan had focused just a little more into the background of the ghost stories, integrated them more into the retelling of the tale and focused just a little less on explaining student life at Oxford.