‘Number 91: A Belfast Ghost Story’ by John Skillen

‘Ghosts With Local Colour’

Score: 3/5

Well, this is an odd one for someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts.

I first heard about this book last year when a friend in $WORK mentioned it. Even though I was born and raised in Belfast, I’d never heard of the book itself or the story around it. Maybe it’s because the time of the events was 1989 when I was at university meant it passed me by (although I think I’d have been back in Belfast for the summer break). Dunno. I’d never heard of it anyway.

And when someone mentions an intriguing book to me, my first action is usually to buy it. (Often this happens before I get to the ‘should I buy it’ or ‘will I ever read it’ stage.) And this is where I encountered a problem: I couldn’t buy this book.

Other options like eBay or just plain Google searches didn’t show up anything either, and @BelfastBooks told me the last copy he had he went for £150 a couple of years ago. That’s more money than I was willing to spend. There are mutterings about a PDF version in circulation, and then further mutterings from the family of the author asking that the PDF not be spread around, and then lots of dodgy piracy sites catching on to the search term and polluting all search results for the book (try it if you don’t believe me). I wouldn’t be comfortable downloading a dodgy PDF of a book anyway.

So I tried to find it in libraries:

So I tried to request it through the Norn Iron library system. And failed. Apparently this is one of the rare, special books that they have but don’t lend any more - I guess because it is so rare.

They did say I could request it be sent to a local library and I could read it there. I just wouldn’t be able to take it out of the building.

That was a good few months ago. It was only last week I figured I’d be able to dedicate some time to reading it in the library, so I put the request in then. It arrived in Carrickfergus library on Monday for me. Pretty fast service if you ask me!

So, on Wednesday I made it to the library to finally start reading this book, to find out what all the fuss is about.

Well, the fuss is about a purportedly true haunting in Belfast in 1989. The Skillen family were haunted by a ghost of a woman, and this spectre repeatedly physically attacked the author of the book, John Skillen. Priests and psychics were consulted, but the family were driven from their home.

It became well known as it was happening, with up to two hundred people gathering outside the house at times. And it made the radio and newspapers.

And I’d never heard of it.

Hmm. I don’t want to read too much into that - news was different back then, there were no Twitter alerts, no news web sites, and we usually didn’t get the papers. But still I wonder why I didn’t hear about it for nearly three decades.

It’s an interesting tale, certainly. And at 140 pages it’s quite a short one - it only took about two and half hours in the library to read it from start to finish.

It’s quite unpolished - a good editor would work wonders. But the tale itself is intriguing. I did keep wondering to myself what I’d have done differently. And I’m not sure it would have made any difference. I suppose the fact that I’m asking that question means I’m putting myself in the author’s position, so that means it’s quite relatable. Yeah, I could find a lot of it relatable.

I still don’t believe in ghosts though. I’m not going to try to offer explanations, but I’m sure others have and will. I did find it interesting.

Tags: 4 Word Book Reviews
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