The Apparition Phase is a ghost story set in the 1970s which looks at the blurred lines between rational explanation and supernatural happenings. Tim and Abi are precocious twins obsessed with the macabre and strange, who see themselves as cleverer than everyone else at their dull suburban school. They decide to fake a ghost photo and test it on a girl from school, but what they don’t realise is that doing so is setting off something larger, something that will become entangled in their lives as their teenage years go on, and which leads Tim to become mixed up with a strange haunted manor in Suffolk.
Maclean combines a depressing early 70s suburban landscape with an old, supposedly haunted house to create a ghost story that also looks at trauma and escape. Tim’s narrative voice has a classic ghost story hindsight, and the narrative goes in a different direction to what I was expecting from the blurb, moving from weird adolescents to growing older amidst tragedy to ghost hunting and experiments. The characters who appear a bit later into the novel at the old house are an interesting collection, though it felt that from Tim’s perspective you never really got beyond hints of their stories.
The atmosphere of this novel is effective, an example of using a kind of listless 70s landscape to explore the supernatural, growing up, and trauma (70s British gothic should be a genre by now, if it isn’t already). There’s a good balance between actual malevolent spirits and what is realistic troubles from non-supernatural life, making it a book less focusing on jumpy scares than a lingering sense of bleakness. This probably made it an unintentionally good read for the week before Halloween at a time when there’s plenty of real life horrors going on.