Tag Archives: quiet houses


I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received today. And it is entitled:-

Quiet Houses – by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Dark Continents Publishing 2011

Quiet Houses by Simon Kurt Unsworth

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

My real-time review of the previous ‘headSKU’ in September 2010: Lost Places

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (11 Oct 11)


Nakata 1: University Office

The Elms, Morecambe

It seems that my personal well-tried method of leitmotifs–>gestalt is likely to suit this book! A sort of gathering of evidence of (a core of) hauntings that the reader is charged to ‘collate’ via the Nakata investigator (more of this as the book  develops for me). The first story he investigates presents inter-narratively contiguous seasidey ‘genii loci’ of a moribund hotel and a downbeat cafe – “…and no one could be that unhappy and be alive.” – and I turned, quite instinctively, to my wife (sitting quilting nearby), as I finished reading ‘The Elms, Morecambe’ and said to her: “I think I have just read one of the great ghost stories of all time.”  She nodded. She’s heard similar things before from me. But today I think I really really meant it.  It’s beside the point that we both lived in Morecambe in the late 1960s. A seriously memorable story, with or without such memories. [And I also thought of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his chambermaid.] (11 Oct 11 – three hours later)

Nakata 2: Train and beyond

The Merry House, Scale Hall

I may come back to re-reading this later, depending on many factors. Anyway I have taken literally – so far – the information on the copyright page of ‘Quiet Houses’ that this is a re-publication of ‘Scale Hall’, a story I first reviewed here in 2010, below being my verbatim review at that time:

<<Scale Hall by Simon Kurt Unsworth

“There is something special about Scale Hall. It is a small suburb, located roughly halfway between Lancaster and Morecambe.”

I lived in Morecambe and Lancaster for most of the three years from 1966 to 1969: being at University in the area. I am sure that that experience cannot possibly add, for me, to the Hellishness of the Hellish horror in this story because how can its Hellishness be exceeded? Not necessarily a great horror story in the vein of what one would expect of a traditional horror story. It is a bit over-written, somewhat self-conscious. But it remains a very disturbing vision and the story should not be approached lightly. I don’t know if ‘Scale’ has anything to to do with the ‘fishing’ by the monster for children through the skin of nightmare. Or that the words Fish and Christ are, in some contexts, synonymous. Or that I myself had a dream last January then recorded on my Facebook (accessible by ‘friends’) HERE that seems, in hindsight, vaguely significant. 

This is about a family man near Scale Hall, and with a really intense visionary power about what he sees – entailing doubts about himself and his care of his own children. It seems to give this book’s gestalt a big injection of ineluctable dread. Impressed. (18 June 10 – another 2 hours later)>>

I have decided that I shall indeed (re)read the above story when I pick up this book again in the next few days and shall re-report on it accordingly as I suspect it is not an exact reprint from the previous book. (11 Oct 11 – another 2 hours later)


Having slept on it, what I said to my wife (quoted above) about the first ‘story’ genuinely holds true for me today. Also, I am glad this is a real book not an e-one – for its turning sheets…

Onward to ‘Scale Hall’ again… (12/10/11)

“I’ve written all the details, names and dates and the like, on the back sheet for you so you can check what details you can from that.”

“The light appeared behind the sheet covering the first window…”

 I have not closely compared the two versions of this story – and its new ”Nakata” (ghost-hunter or gestalt-hunter?) intro – but I can safely say that I now have no lingering doubts about it as a great horror story, shocking even beyond ‘Horror’ as a literary genre … as ‘The Elms, Morecambe’ is equally great as a ghost story.  Two strong story highlights of a ‘Horror’ reading-life that should not be missed, both conveying within their gestalt a pervasive clinging sadness like a terrible burr that can’t be brushed off. Meanwhile, the typesetting of this book sometimes causes there to be strange splitting of words between lines (eg Lancast-er). This is either clumsy or an effective way to convey the ‘fishing’ or ‘hanging’, the precarious tenterhook, the ‘dying fall’.  [From a more personal point of view this story reminds me of Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’, even though the two stories are about different things, but their horror sense and sensibility haphazardly entwine. Those who have read both stories will know what I mean.  Both unwarily tapping some Jungian common ground. Also “The Merry House, Scale Hall” reminds me of my own ”hawling” in ‘Nemonymous Night’: “…and pieces of our world can be caught and taken into the lost places beneath our feet.”]

“Scale Hall is a small suburb, located roughly halfway between Lancaster and Morecambe. […] The biggest employers in Scale Hall now are the health service and Lancaster University…” (12/10/11 – two hours later)

Nakata  3: University Office

Beyond St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham Head

Linked to the previous story by:

“As a child, Nakata had gone out with fishermen and had thought that there must be some magic to the way in which they knew where to go to find the greatest hauls.”

That ‘magic’ as parallel to this haunting and haunted crop-circling (my expression, not the book’s) — a mood-story as Nakata himself becomes involved in the swirling ‘trails’ in the grass on Heysham Head (this a Heysham ‘Willows’ where the Blackwood version was around the Danube). Nakata’s trail he makes for real as one of the several converging and dis-converging trails; another trail, I surmise, is the reader’s (mine) in this real-time gestalt-‘ghosting’ walk. Nakata, meanwhile, seems to have some personal and retrocausal hinterland concerning ‘Amy’ and ‘Glasshouse Estate’, unless the book has mistakenly got the stories out of order – or deliberately disordered. Time will tell. Time is telling. Time has tolled.

“Go beyond the graves, and they will come to you.” (12/10/11 – another 2 hours later)

Nakata 4: Meeting Room 1

The Ocean Grand, North West Coast

“…swimming and dancing with vast and unnameable creatures under the green surface before being lifted out and hauled into the sky by flying versions of the same creatures.”

Wow! Also, where do I start in gathering together this substantial story with which Nakata continues his listening-task, his ghost-hunting / ghost-haunting gestalt — and here we have a titanic yet derelict art-deco hotel situated on what I imagine to be the coast of this book’s powerful ‘genius loci’ so far.  A new gestalt to form this hotel and its ‘soul’, a gestalt-hunting-another-gestalt (!) of soft panels, small handprints, then biting panels, the plumbing or cocking of ancient bathrooms etc. — and, over all, an emerging con-trick concupiscence of decorative-art ripening out for real, i.e. from the Great War onward, with Fifties’ appendages, and yet newer appendages even as we watch and read these still-evolving (!) words of text in real-time on these page-turning sheets. Astonishing, yet almost blown away in Horror-building-on-Horror: overkill or orgasm? Overkill, sadly. But try it. See if it works for you. I can only make select quotes to echo the previous stories and, perhaps, the stories herein that I’ve still to read: “I’m collecting stories like yours,” — “an interlocking swirl of lines and blooms…” — “More sheets lay piled against the seaward wall,” — “the whole place was art” — “art’s ‘language’, its ‘voice’, its ‘pulse’ and its ‘heartbeat’.” — “the angels of the sea”… (12/10/11 – another 3 hours later)

Nakata 5: Under Great Moore Street, Manchester

The Temple of Relief and Ease

“…as though hundreds of people’s speech was threading apart into tendrils so that there were no words left, only fragments.”

Re-focussed from between the thighs of overkill, here we have probably the ultimate fiction gem of an increasingly ill-scented scatology / eschatology. Echoing the cocked bathrooms in the previous story, this is Nakata’s investigation of a haunting overnight in a now disused underground gents public convenience with urinals and cubicles that was in operation from Victorian times: mapped with cold spots: akin to the trails of Heysham Head? – there more ley-lines, here more laystalls or finds.  Being a tidyman myself, I tend to try order fiction’s leitmotifs into a neat gestalt, and this whole book almost seems to move lingeringly in my hands as if pleased I am one such reader! I hope I can live up to its expectations. The tale of Tulketh  (which you will read or have already read in this story) is highly poignant and is pertinent to the lot of each human being within  the mapped ‘incontinents’ of humanity in all its cross-section of time-styles and polite and/or misjudged concealments of bodily processes here laid frighteningly bare by the story’s ripely read redolence being underhauled beneath our feet. (13/10/11)

Nakata 6: Tidyman’s Office

24 Glasshouse, Glasshouse Estate

“…it has been suggested that ghosts are bundles of energy, the remains of a once-living person, but that this energy requires a human catalyst to emerge,…”

And I hereby offer myself as the reader who dies while reading this book.  There is still time, i.e. judging by the contents list, a single ‘story’ left after this one: followed by what looks, on the surface, like some authorial after-notes that I have, of course, not yet read and will not review here in any case.  This story ends in more overkill, yet not before some really effective feelings of unease and sense of shadowy ghosts. Unsworth is a master of these subtle effects.  His style is immaculate and perfect for the job he is doing here. Meanwhile, we have in this ‘story’: a retrocauseal filling in of the ghostalt (a word coined here in this review first?), a ghostalt prefigured earlier.  The creation of  what I shall call a ‘miscegenate’ (as a specialist form of ‘poltergeistalt’) that later becomes, if this is not a contradiction in terms, a type of visceral ghost … or house-screamer – and perhaps a retrocausal reason for Nakata’s actual name. There is also a tangible illness: that sad, unbrushable-off ‘burr’ I mentioned earlier.  We have a blair-witch-type project of observers observing observers observing observers, but which observer are you?  Which is your mere smell, which my stench?  Paranoia in ghost-hunting… A flawed masterpiece. “…it was as though words were doing the exact opposite, were dragging something together, pulling it into wholeness rather than being expelled and lost,…” (13/10/11 – three hours later)

Nakata 7: Curtin’s Office

Stack’s Farm, Trough of Bowland

Nakata 8: Public Gallery, Courtroom 2

“At the very least, they would provide strong evidence that the experiment was not flawed,…”

This book is one of intense ‘genii loci’ and this story’s title reminds me of my formative days drinking coffee and eating Chorley Cakes in Bowland College JCR, Lancaster University (1966-69). (The Trough of Bowland is a real place, one perhaps with huge unseen cattle feeding therefrom or bathing therein or worse). This is a book, I guess, personal to every reader who foolhardily devotes his or her faith and hope to its dangers.  And it does have real dangers. Here the earlier miscegenation skews towards the beast-human.  Also, to the ‘Solomon-judgement’ faced by courtroom jurors on a day out.  This book is a quiet house or safe house. But the reader inside it screams.  END (13/10 11 – another 3 hours later)


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