The Haunting – Margaret Mahy
Puffin Books, 1999
In honour of Book Week I will be posting up a few reviews of children’s books that I’ve lately either discovered or re-read. If I like an author I don’t give a damn about recommended ages and having grown up loving Mahy’s books, I have this year been trying to track down and read the classics of hers that somehow passed me by. It’s a bittersweet discovery now, knowing that Mahy has recently passed away, but in a way that makes it all the more important to me to appreciate all the amazing things she wrote. The Haunting is one of those books that is integral to the Mahy canon.
Barney is happy with his life. The imaginary friends that comforted him during the lonely years after his mother’s death have disappeared, replaced with a loving stepmother and a newly attentive father. But when a great-uncle dies and his dead mother’s family gather together, old secrets begin to surface. Barney is about to be haunted again. And this ghost is only a harbinger of the chaos yet to come.
First published in 1982, The Haunting doesn’t date. The family dynamic is vibrant, chaotic and totally convincing in a story that manages to be creepy and comforting as only Mahy could achieve. It isn’t my favourite of her books – I would have liked it to go deeper, and predictably enough, longer – but it is of the same high quality as everything else she wrote, just as charming and eccentric and utterly readable. In a way, it reminds me of The Tricksters, another novel of hers about ghosts and magicians. I like to think maybe the Scholars and the Carnivals met someday. Magic calls to magic, after all…