As Halloween approaches, we tend to cast about for ghost stories. Reality and Other Stories, John Lanchester’s new collection, has evidently been pitched to satisfy this autumnal craving. It opens with Horatio’s warning in the first act of Hamlet that when in Caesar’s Rome ‘the graves stood tenantless’ all hell broke loose: a ghost is, despite those who would scoff at it, ‘a mote ... to trouble the mind’s eye’. I was primed to expect ghosts – and to be troubled.
The first story in the collection did not disappoint. ‘Signal’, previously published in the New Yorker, is easily the best of the bunch. Its protagonist, a middle-aged male academic with a young family, is engaging and likeable; the story – family is invited to remote country house by eccentric friend;