Annual Winter-y Reads-‘The Breathing Method’ by Stephen King and ‘Ghost Story’ by Peter Straub

This year, I have undertaken a readathon of all the Stephen King novels featuring Castle Rock as a location or even as character.

So far, I have reached Different Seasons, wherein ‘‘The Body’  is set in Castle Rock .

From the 4 novellas included , my favourite is the only one which hasn’t been adapted into a movie.’The Breathing Method’ ,is the winter portion of the seasons and is reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas ghost story despite being set in the 1970’s .It concerns a gentlemen’s club, and the narrator, David Adley, who is  invited to dine there, one evening , by a work colleague.

Far from finding it a stuffy old boys network, he is surprised to find that he enjoys the food, the company, the atmosphere and the tales that the old men tell.There is a well stocked library with books that he, a well read man, does not recognise, including poetry by an author he is well acquainted with that to his knowledge was never published.

A hint from Stevens,the butler, suggests that there will be further visits to the old brownstone building on East 35th Street, and David finds himself filled with hope that he will be invited back.

‘Come again if you like ;don’t wait for an invitation..’

Weeks pass and his colleague, George, does not ask him to return so seizing his courage ,David returns to the 249 club and becomes one of a handful of ‘regulars’. Each takes it in turn to tell a story , with Christmas time being reserved for ‘a tale of the uncanny’.

The story teases  tantalising  glimpses into Christmas tales leading up to the one where ‘The Breathing Method’ is told, never fully fleshed out but with enough detail to let the reader fill in the rest.

It is easy to envisage the club, it’s inhabitants and how they are drawn to the story, told in front of the huge fireplace whose mantel has carved into it-

It is the tale not he who tells it’

this being the unofficial motto of sorts. It reinforces the way that King is leading up to the one full story , the Christmas tale told by Emlyn McCarron, ten years after David has started visiting the 249 club. The story of ‘The Breathing Method’.

This story is classic King, it has all of his best hallmarks-precise, chilling, perfectly set up and the conclusion…..well, to echo David ‘It is the tale, not he who tells it’.

Please read it, it often gets overlooked but it’s a perfect winter tale and will chill you to the bone.

The little details in it often get overlooked(no pun intended). The story is dedicated to Peter and Susan Straub, with whom King’s family lived for a time, in the early 80’s in Crouch End, London. Peter Straub is the writer of ‘Ghost Story‘, to my mind one of the finest tales I have ever read about ghosts, redemption, sins and pride which was also made into a an excellent movie . It was, I believe, Fred Astaire’s last film role and it will show him in a completely different light to what most people would expect him to be.

The 249 club-it may be a stretch, I was very tired reading this but I went ‘Oh my god,if you take 2 from 249 then you get 47 which is the year Stephen King was born!The main character is called David, like King’s brother and the butler is called Stevens-surely that is his way of comparing the 249 club to his imagination and he is the butler of his stories, he is the conduit to how they get told, and when!’

*I must admit I was very proud of making these links but in broad daylight they may not hold up to much scrutiny*

Stevens is a taciturn fellow, who places no judgement on the members, and as well as the stories which are told there,you get the feeling, as you are reading, that there is  major HP Lovecraft vibe going on in this old building, with secret rooms, and corridors and slithering noises in the dark….books that have been printed by no recognisable presses and poems that shouldn’t exist…

And there in lies the payoff. If you keep quiet and just enjoy the stories for what they are, then it doesn’t really matter who tells it.

‘Was there something else, Mr Adley?’ We were alone in the hallway now .All the others had left. And suddenly the hallway seemed darker,Steven’s long face paler,his lips redder. A knot exploded in the fireplace and a red glow washed momentarily across the polished parquet floor. I though I heard, from somewhere in those as-yet-unexplored rooms beyond,a kind of slithery bump. I did not like the sound. Not at all.

‘No,’ I said in a voice that was not quite steady.’I think not’.




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