Shelf Life

Shelf Life: 19th century Victorian intrigue and mystery lie in the 'The White Forest'

2013-08-18T09:30:00Z 2013-08-21T16:12:12Z Shelf Life: 19th century Victorian intrigue and mystery lie in the 'The White Forest'Jane Ammeson Times Correspondent
August 18, 2013 9:30 am  • 

Immersing himself into the 19th century the Victorian spiritualism, ghostly apparitions, brooding dark houses and otherworldly atmosphere, Adam McOmber creates a moody Gothic tale of intrigue, magic and mystery in "The White Forest" (Touchstone Paperback $16) to draw us into the world of Jane Silverlake who, after the mysterious death of her mother, has the strangle gift of being able to listen to the souls of man-made objects. To escape these frightening sounds, Jane and two of her friends, Madeline Lee and Nathan Ashe, roam the heath surrounding her father’s neglected, decaying mansion. Nathan, drawn to Jane, is a follower of the mystic Ariston Day and when Nathan disappears without leaving any trace, Jane determines to infiltrate Day’s secret society, using her unique talent to aid in finding Nathan.

“I spent a lot of time researching this book,” said McOmber, a creative writing professor at Columbia College Chicago who obsessively consumes Victorian ghost stories and has reread Scottish anthropologist James Frazer’s "The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion," a 19th century of mythology, ancient religions, folk rituals, festivals and beliefs.

Another influence was the works of M.R. James, an English medieval scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–1918) considered to be one of the best authors of ghost stories and the originator of the antiquarian ghost story.

“His ghost story ‘Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad’ is one of the most frightening I’ve ever read,” said McOmber. “Allowing myself to steep in this atmosphere all led to the buildup which helped in writing 'The White Forest.'”

McOmber, associate editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika, whose short stories have been shortlisted for Best American Fantasy and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in 2012, said that growing up in the small Ohio town of Vanwert where both his father and grandfather were farmers and his current life in Chicago, are, in part, reflected in Jane’s Hampstead Heath home and her fears of industrial London in the 19th century.

“Because I have a generally Gothic temperament,” he said, “I perceive that both the country setting and the city setting can be dangerous in their own way. The White Forest itself isn’t exactly a place you’d want to go for a pleasant afternoon stroll.”

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