The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

Review of Quiet Houses, by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Quiet Houses
by Simon Kurt Unsworth

 

Dark Continents Publishing , 2011                                  

                           

Reviewed by Mario Guslandi

It came out of the wall. It made a noise like an animal, and the door shut, and suddenly I felt so frightened, so fucking scare and sad” (Stack Farm, Trough of Bowland)

quiet-houses cover

One of the most interesting voices in the British world of horror fiction, Simon Kurt Unsworth is the author of two story collections (Quiet Houses is his second) while a third one is forthcoming later this year.

 Quiet Houses comprises seven interconnected stories, describing the peculiar investigations carried out by Richard Nakata, a ghost hunter in the tradition of illustrious literary predecessors such as Carnacki, Jules de Grandin etc, following the traces of psychic phenomena in different, precise geographic locations scattered across the UK. The real purpose of those investigations will become clear only in the last chapter of the book. The stories, which can be read as standalone tales, are of uneven strength and quality, but the whole picture turns out better than the individual details.

The Elms, Morecambe is an emotional piece featuring the sad ghost of a chambermaid: “When I opened the door, there was a young woman, a girl really, standing there…She wasn’t wearing any makeup and she looked very young….and she said “Can I turn your sheets, sir? …Could I tell she was a ghost? No, I couldn’t. She wasn’t see-through, her clothes weren’t old fashioned, and se wasn’t wearing a bonnet that made me think of the Victorians or Edwardians or whoever. She just looked like a normal girl, woman.

 In 24 Glasshouse, Glasshouse Estate, an ambitious, not entirely convincing piece (although Unsworth tries his best to force the readers to suspend their disbelief) psychic remainders haunt a house where a sick man died, leaving a trail of hate and hunger. The Ocean Grand, North West Coast – unaccountably included in one of the annual Best New Horror anthologies – is a very long and challenging story that didn’t work for me. Something of a cross between the novel The Shining and the famous song Hotel California, served with a dollop of sex and art, in the end it is a rather insipid and slightly boring piece.

By contrast, the remaining stories are much more accomplished, showing how Unsworth at his best is a very talented storyteller.

The extremely dark Stack’s Farm, Through of Bowland conveys a sense of dread and anguish by following the fate of a farmer who, after slaughtering his cattle, kills himself:

An axe, he used an axe. The creatures were in stalls…their labored breathing whistling through throats that were sliced and mangled. The air stank of their blood and fear, of their deaths and the dark liquid gathered in pools around their feet. Their eyes were wide, their tongues lolling.”

Beyond St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham Head is the masterful, gripping depiction of a frightening, paranormal experience on the land behind an ancient chapel in ruins, whilst The Temple of Relief and Ease is an atypical ghost story set inside the eponymous temple, an old underground Victorian lavatory off Oxford Road: “They hid him underground, where no one could see him, where people ignored him, where he cleared out piss and shit and puke. Where people forgot about him.”

In the atmospheric and unsettling The Merry House, Scale Hall the terrible truth about a missing girl is to be found in an abandoned bungalow where a hungry creature is lurking:

The smell in the house was terrible, a kind of overheated, baking sourness, the smell of feverish sweat and sex and dampness and saliva….I reached out a hand to Sandra…She took another step, finally moving out of the grasp of the light that came from behind her and her face emerged from the pale shadows. I screamed.” This story, like the collection as a whole, is a journey into the mysterious and the unexplained, the horrific and the paranormal. The gist of the book can be summarized by the words of Nakata himself:I have tried to show that there are places we can’t yet understand…where the quietness lets some of us experience things differently, but it doesn’t mean anything, only our experiences give us understanding. There’s no sense to it, only the commitment we make to what we want the world to be.

About the reviewer: 

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy and, most likely is  the only Italian who regularly reads (and reviews) dark fiction in English. His reviews have appeared in a number of genre and non-genre  websites such as The Agony Column, The SF Site,  Horrorworld, Hellnotes, The British Fantasy Society , SF Revu etc.
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This entry was posted on June 24, 2013 by in reviews and tagged , .
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