Unquiet Thoughts – Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Quiet Houses”

I first came across Simon’s writing in a copy of Best New Horror 19 and being impressed at the eerieness he was able to create in an otherwise idyllic setting. In fact, the bathroom at my girlfriends’ parents’ house has a picture that really reminds me of that story, which is quite unsettling when I would otherwise be happy cleaning my teeth.

As such, when Simon announced on Twitter that he’d happily send out copies of his newest collection, Quiet Houses to those interested in reviewing them, I jumped at the chance. (And was then terribly delayed in my ability to download and read it, considering my holidaying in the depths of Cornwall and its lack of etherial contact with the elsewheres.)

I had read much of the book in the late hours of the evening, when all else had gone to bed, and found myself suitably displaced by the descriptions and stories within. I haven’t jumped at the sounds of my home settling for a good many years – this was not the case while I read Quiet Houses! As the blurb states, “The houses are quiet. It is their residents who are screaming.” The concept lends a nice counterpoint to the idea of ‘unquiet places,’ which is pleasingly mentioned in some of the narrative too.

Quiet Houses is less of a clear-cut collection than I had first thought, but more of a (well-executed) attempt at a verbal portmanteau format. The stories of the houses (a loose catch-all within the book, but a word that suits the idea of memoried locations well) are unlinked, but connected by the studies of parapsychologist Richard Nakata; they are told in a variety of different manners, from an interview in a greasy spoon to documentation and Nakata’s personal experiences. His scientist’s drive is apparent in his search for “proof” (evident in the first few pages as he whittles down responses to a newspaper advert into a series of leads) and in the clear and open nature of the narrative. Nakata’s insistence on denying none of the occurrences and similarly in maintaining as objective a stance as possible only serves to make the book more terrifying, because in reading through the stories it is impossible to do the same as reader.

The difference in the styles of telling the tales is good, and I have to say that my particular favourite was the letter detailing the evil that lurks in the Merry House. Personally I least enjoyed the section within the hotel; the strength of its story would perhaps stand better alone, for I feel it doesn’t link with Nakata’s narrative as well as the other tales. That being said, none of the stories within are wanting for quality of writing nor scares. Indeed, throughout I was very impressed by the descriptions of the happenings. If these are all ghost stories, I’ve never heard ghosts described in such different ways.

Quiet Houses is released on the first of October, at Brighton Fantasy Convention. If you are there, I endeavour that you seek out its release. If you are not, I implore you to read this.

I don’t want to be the only person with these fears in my head.

Unquiet Thoughts – Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Quiet Houses”

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