Review: This House is Haunted by Guy Lyon Playfair

In This House is Haunted, author Guy Lyon Playfair documents a famous British poltergeist incident from the 1970s. Playfair experienced the haunting firsthand as one of two outside investigators who became directly involved with the proceedings.

I have to admit that while I enjoy a variety of paranormal topics, I’m not typically drawn to ghost stories. Hauntings, however one chooses to explain them, tend to defy a lot of generally accepted science. By comparison, extraterrestrials may or may not exist, but interstellar beings are entirely scientifically plausible. The same goes for many cryptozoological mysteries. While the evidence tends to be circumstantial, one can reasonably keep an open mind toward such things without having to disregard the basic rules of the universe. Poltergeists and the behaviors ascribed to them, on the other hand, are substantially more outlandish. Their blatantly inexplicable nature means that a much greater leap of faith is required just to reach the point where we can even consider them a possibility. As Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

In some manifestations of the paranormal, consistency of experience across a diverse population can also lend to the intrigue. Why do so many unrelated people tend to have such similar bizarre experiences? Part of what makes the Sasquatch mythos so curious is the way the stories remain relatively uniform over decades, cultures, and widespread geography. Alas, this is rarely so with hauntings. While we could certainly point to some “core” elements that make up a classic spook story, typical experiences rarely come across as fundamentally consistent or predictable. People see, hear, and feel things differently in each case, and most incidents are rarely verifiably repeated. Ghosts are so ethereal that they effectively become a catchall for anything and everything odd and inexplicable. This lack of overarching definition hardly helps in granting the viewer a strong conviction towards the evidence.

So, is all hope lost? On the contrary, This House is Haunted is my new standard for what a poltergeist study should be. Here we have a prolonged event witnessed both by a consistent group of dedicated observers as well as a variety of independent third parties over an extended period of time (months). It even appears to have yielded a bit of physical evidence, although what became of this in the years that followed is somewhat unclear. While it may not meet the bar of incontrovertible proof, the incident contains enough depth to stand firmly on its own; an apparent anomaly in reality as we know it.

The book was developed from the author’s own notes and recordings, and in my view it was very well presented. The text was nicely paced, to the point, and not over dramatic. The majority of the 300-odd pages are a recounting of the events as they happened, with commentary and speculation generally kept to a minimum. The major participants are portrayed in satisfying depth, and come across as both interesting and sympathetic. Fairplay also injects an occasional subtle wit that helps keep the retelling fresh and lively.

Rather than feeling dismissive, I found myself drawn in. Could such a wild incident really be true? Of course, little in the way of explanation is forthcoming. It all ends rather abruptly, as such events and the stories based on them are prone to do. What remains, if we can allow ourselves to consider it, is a rather cracking mystery; one which lends an air of legitimacy to the all too ethereal world of the poltergeist.

Highly recommended for fans of the paranormal.

Rating: 5/5

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