Audiobook of the Week: ‘The Ghost Club’

Deciding what audiobook to listen to requires its own special calculus, related to but distinct from the factors we consider when picking a book off a shelf. From the Book Review’s own endless listening, we will select and review a different title each week, from a range of genres, to help you decide. See you next Friday.

THE GHOST CLUB, by Kate Winkler Dawson. Read by the author.

High society meets spiritualism in the journalist and crime historian Kate Winkler Dawson’s lively, audio-only account of a London-based group of supernaturalists. Not an overly theatrical narrator, Dawson lets her illustrative prose and an intriguing cast propel the eight-act narrative. Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Butler Yeats and Laurence Oliphant are just a few of the notables who pass through the titular club, founded in 1862 and still in business today.

At the fore is Harry Price, who became chairman in 1938 after investigating paranormal activity at the Borley Rectory in Essex, which he called the “most haunted house in England.” Professing that scientific rigor could legitimize the study of the afterlife, Price debunked lore about a phantom nun on the grounds but claimed to have observed other ghostly goings-on, such as tapping on the windows and servant bells ringing after their wires had been cut. He drew both acclaim and criticism, leaving Dawson to wonder: “Who was Harry Price — a genius or a grifter? A conjurer or a con?”

Dawson is less skeptical of the wider cultural appeal of spiritualism. Perhaps she’s right that war, industrialization and the Titanic’s sinking stirred metaphysical yearnings, but after listeners hear offhand mentions of club members’ commitments to colonialism and Christian Zionism — and if they have any outside knowledge of the occult origins of the Third Reich — listeners may wonder if there’s more to the story.

Audrey Clare Farley is the author, most recently, of “Girls and Their Monsters: The Genain Quadruplets and the Making of Madness in America.”

THE GHOST CLUB | By Kate Winkler Dawson | Read by the author | Penguin Audio | 4 hours, 1 minute

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