Although this story is unconventional it employs many techniques found in the more conventional ghost stories, use of tension, suspense and doubt. Storr takes and develops all that is in the more conventional story, applying it in different ways to crossing over. The writer continually questions the way in which we prioritise life and also questions our own sense of reality. In an almost kierkergaardien style Storr prioritises life which is described, by overshadowing it with the characters death at the end, for example the triviality of the girls worries,( ‘she shouldn’t go back…disagreeable task,’) are indeed proven to be minor in comparison to the ‘nothingness that pervades being’.
In questioning the girls reality she too questions the reality of the reader, highlighting one of our main fears, that we don’t exist, for we realise that as the character notices that she cant distinguish between her own death and living states so too do we find it impossible to prove at any point, for certain, that we are not dreaming rather than being in a waking state. This doubt accentuates the stories negative – death, while belief in what we appear to be told chooses to ignore the negative. Only at the end of the story are our suspicions confirmed, (‘think you’re seeing a ghost?’). Constantly through the story do we doubt our own thoughts, for although we may begin to notice hints at what we believe to be true the girl seems oblivious of these and as we start to trust the girl we doubt not only the hints we think we see in the story but also our own mind. The way in which this is created is very effective as it serves to bring about doubt in what we viewed to be reality- that which we see.
The author also manages to carry off the story by dehumanising the main character. The main character is named only as ‘she’ or the ‘girl’. This allows the transition between her living and dead states to be much more questionable as her name label has no need to be changed. It appears that we are given very little information about the girl but actually in the first page or so we begin to develop a picture of her as a shy, lonely, weak and rather unintelligent girl. (‘she wasn’t any good at making conversation,’…. ‘she wasn’t…change,’). The third person narrative is used to allow us to experience things from the perspective of the girl, this helps us to identify slightly more with the way in which she thinks and acts, only at the end does the attention move to Mrs Matthews and the girl disappears, leaving the reader with the realisation that the girl is dead. The girl all the way through seems unthreatening and even as a ghost does not come across as haunting or frightening, in fact our views of ghosts are changed as a result of her non stereotypical appearance. Her spirit lived on because of the girls wish to support Mrs Matthews (‘but then she remembered….dog was dead’).
One of the effective techniques used is how the mood changes dramatically from one paragraph to the next. In the first paragraph the girl is described and the main focus is on her. She is happy at the decision she’s made and the mood if quite hopeful and optimistic.
The focus shifts in the second paragraph to Mrs Matthews and Togo. This paragraph seems to be much more about the difficulties that the girl faces; Mrs Matthews is presented as a miserable and proud old woman being ‘outraged’ by the suggestion that the dog needed bathing. Here, as well as in the first paragraph the girls’ personality is described, less directly this time, it talks about why she carried on with the ‘disagreeable task’ (‘it was only a feeling…. disagreeable task’).
The tension begins to build in the third paragraph. The way in which the weather is used to create atmosphere (‘it was beginning to get dark… pavements slippery’) is reminiscent of the more traditional ghost story, the questions left unanswered in the text for example why she had been kept late at school and why Togo was in a worst mood than usual. The relationship between Togo and the girl seems to have moved to a new level, the girl believing Togo ‘had a spite against her’ and feeling embarrassed by the thought of being seen with him (‘as if it wasn’t bad enough. …unkempt and anti-social’).
In the next paragraph the suspense increases. The sentences become shorter making the events appear to be happening fast. Language is used to suggest violence or speed (‘moving fast,’ ‘rush hour’ ‘wrenching’ ‘snap’ ‘twisted’ ‘screaming brakes’). At the final moment before the climax the use of personification adds to the confusion of the accident (‘she heard…brakes’). The whole mood f this paragraph is one of panic, chaos and confusion. Sights and sounds are described using onomatopoeia (‘snap’) the writer trying to make the scene realistic and imaginable. The paragraph ends with the focus moving between the two main characters, Mrs Matthews and the girl. The readers sympathy shifts to Mrs Matthews going against earlier feelings of dislike to sympathise with the apparent loss of her only companion before moving once more back to the girl whose ‘head swam’ and was about to faint.
The tone of the next paragraph is much calmer, the crisis is over and we feel much more detached from the scene as the girl appears apart from the chaos, watching the events and the people in almost a dreamlike manner. Her momentary loss of memory adds to the dreamlike or supernatural element of the paragraph (‘she found…side of the road’). The pace is slower than the preceding paragraph, the sentences are longer and there is use of alliteration (‘standing,’ ‘surrounding,’ ‘stationary’). She becomes our ‘eyes’ in this paragraph; everything is described, as she, the girl, would see it. We are acclimatising to the calm of this paragraph when we are bought back to the reality of the situation by the way the girl reacts and starts to panic, the repetition of the word ‘blood’ highlights the significance of the situation as a part of the story allowing both the reader and the girl to focus on the surroundings.
The sixth paragraph begins on a rather ironic note, the girls concern is for a person who may have been hurt but we rapidly realise that this person was, in fact, her. Paragraphs seven and eight deal with the girls journey, the reasons for telling Mrs Matthews herself and the dreamlike quality brought to the story. In these two paragraphs the reader begins to realise that all is not as it seems. The dreamlike quality of the paragraph increases as the girl realises ‘she must have been walking really fast’ which is described as ‘surprising’, the fact that Sybil granger does not see her and the roads seeming shorter than usual also contribute to this feeling. The eighth paragraph ends on a haunting note, (‘hollow echoing sound’).
The ninth paragraph begins with the word ‘extraordinary’ a clue to the reader that there is something unusual and out of the ordinary going on. In this way the reader becomes aware of something strange at the same time as the girl. The reader begins to realise the way in which the story is progressing when we are told that the girl hears something like ‘Togo’s menacing growl’. Also the lack of ‘tender spots’ that could have explained the sound lead the reader to trust what she seems to hear.
Our beliefs are confirmed in the tenth passage, the fact that Mrs Matthews is unable to see her (‘she asked nothing…going in the street’). The cliff- hanger ending begins to build up suspense once again, keeping the reader interested.
The eleventh and twelfth paragraphs focus mainly on Togo. We see him in a different light (‘trembling’ and ‘shrinking’). This adds to the reader’s belief that the girl is, in fact, a ghost. This change in behaviour in Togo adds to the confusion of these paragraphs in which there is still some doubt in the mind of the reader as to the reality of the girl.
The final passage dispels any doubt as to the girl’s reality. Confirmation of her death is given by Mrs Matthews who says ‘whatever’s the matter with you Togo? Think you’re seeing a ghost?’
I feel that although when this was first published it was probably seen as an unconventional ghost story, now as we experience a wide variety of ghost stories through film and television it is slightly less unconventional. The uses of speed, language and tension are very similar to some of the early ghost stories, weather being used as a way of setting a mood is very Emily Bronte in style and shows very little unconventiality. There is always a doubt as to the girls reality but almost as soon as the crash happens the way in which the story progresses seems almost childlike in its simplicity. I feel that had this story been written a significantly long time ago it could be described as unconventional for that period, however in today’s society there seems very little to differentiate it from every other ghost story of this period.