Mire House was built to be a place of love, a place to raise a large, happy family with many children. When love and motherhood are both thwarted, hope turns to despair, and despair turns into vengeful bitterness. The house, over many years, decays through neglect and abandonment until Emma Dean, our young heroine, arrives at the house to survey her unexpected inheritance from a mysterious distant relative.
Emma is drawn to the house by curiosity, she wants to see Mire House before she sells it. It’s a legacy from someone she does not know, but by coincidence, she has also recently lost both her parents, and is alone in the world. As she explores the many rooms, she begins to feel an affinity to the house, and is drawn to its potential as a home for her, and a future family. Her first visit is brief, but she soon returns, with her few possessions, to take ownership of Mire House and to make it her own.
Within hours of her arrival, a good looking and intriguing stranger arrives at the door. Charlie Mitchell is the grandson of the man who left the house to Emma, but he gracefully makes it clear that he is not there to stake a claim, but to indulge his curiosity about the house that his grandfather owned, but refused to inhabit. Throughout the book, we are unsure of Charlie’s intentions, but Emma is nevertheless drawn to him, and wants to trust him, despite her growing unease with him, and the atmosphere of the house.
Just as the mood of threat and terror climaxes, the action switches back forty years, to the early 1970s, focussing on Frank, a farm boy from the next property, and his brother and friends. I loved Frank’s character, it’s well drawn, with a realistic mixture of schoolboy bravado, dawning cynicism, and moral backbone. In this section of the book, we see how the curse of Mire House touches yet more lives, and we gain a further insight into the history of the house, and its tragedies.
Rewinding the film once more, we hit the eve of World War Two. Our protagonist for this section is the teenager Aggie, the younger child and only daughter of a farming family. She is excited at the prospect of leaving the back breaking work of farm life to go into service at the new house that is being built along the lane, by the churchyard. We see, through Aggie’s eyes, the genesis of Mire House, and its curse on all who live there.
Returning at last to the present, and Emma’s story, the author draws the threads of the story together, allowing Emma to understand her situation at last.
In ‘The Unquiet House’ we have a well structured horror story that spans almost a century of life. The story has that claustrophobic feel that works so well with ghost stories. Everything is contained within a small area – Mire House itself, the church and graveyard next door, the neighbouring farm, and a short stretch of swampy land that gave its name to the house. Mire House draws everything to itself, and admits of no other way of life.
This is the second Alison Littlewood book that I’ve read, and on the strength of it, I am definitely going to treat myself to ‘Path of Needles’, her second book.
The Unquiet House is out now, published by Jo Fletcher Books.