Genre: Horror, supernatural | Format: Paperback* | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Publication date: April 10th 2014 | My rating: 4/5
Mire House is dreary, dark, cold and infested with midges. But when Emma Dean inherits it from a distant relation, she immediately feels a sense of belonging.
It isn’t long before Charlie Mitchell, grandson of the original owner, appears claiming that he wants to seek out his family. But Emma suspects he’s more interested in the house than his long-lost relations.
And when she starts seeing ghostly figures, Emma begins to wonder: is Charlie trying to scare her away, or are there darker secrets lurking in the corners of Mire House?
I don’t read as much horror these days as fantasy or scifi, but as with those genres I’ve learned to have a rather high bar for certain things. Most notably, shocking plot twists. The shocking plot twist is a tricky thing to pull off – do it right and you can leave a reader wide-eyed and genuinely… Well, shocked. Do it wrong and instead of wide eyes, you get eyes rolling.
With The Unquiet House, Alison Littlewood did it right.
I’ll go into that further in a bit. Let’s start at the beginning…
The Unquiet House starts with its main character, Emma, paying a visit to the house in the country that she’s apparently inherited from a dead distant relative. Upon seeing it and looking around the place, Emma ends up deciding to stay. Now, this surprised me a bit – even made me squint slightly, because Mire House is creepy. Even its name is creepy. Littlewood gives pretty good atmosphere, here. Visualising her setting was impressively easy, and I settled into the story just as easily… Then came the strange and frightening occurrences, and yes, those – one of those, in particular – got under my skin. Emma finds herself locked in a little storage room while cleaning, and let’s just say my sympathetic claustrophobia got a workout.
A mini cliffhanger event follows that allows Littlewood to change POV characters, even going back in time to fill the middle segment of the book with Important Events in Mire House’s past, told by two people who have eerily important connections to it. The reasons for the house’s creepy vibes unfold in the telling of their stories, and while this is relevant I have to admit that, past a certain point, I began to get a little impatient to return to Emma’s part of the story. Middle sections of a story are as important as the beginning and ending, and more than with either of those I find it’s usually where a book succeeds or fails to really snare my attention. I didn’t lose interest here, obviously, but that strain on my patience was definitely noted…
That said, the final third of the book pays off very well. There lies the real twist, naturally, and as I mentioned before, it really did take me by surprise. Well done that writer!
What impressed me more overall, though, wasn’t so much the strength of its shock factor as the quieter (unquieter, ahahasorry) themes of grief and loss that are threaded throughout the story. It’s these things that tie each individual story together, and taken all together it provides something to think about beyond simply “wow, didn’t see that coming…”. This deft touch, rather than a shock-deploying heavy hand, is what has sold me on Alison Littlewood as a writer of good horror. And it may be worth noting that in my teen years, I read and loved a LOT of Stephen King. So when I say a horror story is good, it’s being measured against the best. The Unquiet House isn’t perfect, but if you like good horror, this is worth recommending.
Will I read more of Littlewood’s books? Most assuredly yes.
* This book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.