You may purchase The House of Silence here.
My dear unknown friend,
As you know I stay to the less expensive side of the marketplace while reviewing books. When Mike first graciously asked if I would write for Lovecraft Ezine I saw it as a chance to champion new and/or obscure writers and the majority of these will come from the moderate end of the spectrum. Let us also note money is scarce these days and extracting the most value for your hard-earned ducats is a worthwhile goal. With this said I recently broke form and indulged in a moderately pricey, limited edition hardback. Was it worth the cost? Oh gods yes. You know I would not be writing this review if it were not so.
If you do not do so already, I would heartily recommend you follow both the journal Wormwood published regularly by Tartarus Press and Wormwoodiana, a blog “devoted to fantasy, supernatural and decadent literature.” Last October Mark Valentine posted a review of The House of Silence and his writing of Avalon Brantley’s merging of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and The Night Land with “early Irish prehistory” made me take notice. Hopefully my recent review of Hippocampus Press’s William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland showed what a rabid fan I am of Hodgson’s work. I would direct your attention to this article by H. P. Lovecraft for the high value Lovecraft himself placed on Hodgson’s work should you need further convincing of Hodgson’s appeal. (Thanks to the efforts of Sam Gafford we are allowed to read the original article Lovecraft wrote upon discovering Hodgson’s ouvre.)
First let me start with the physical aspects of the book itself. The House of Silence is a delight for the eyes as well as the hands. The cover is designed to appear aged and distressed, fitting well with the “lost manuscript” trope used within. The green endpapers match the silk bookmark as well as the head and tail bands. One book I adore is Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style and one forgets in this day and age the pleasure of seeing a text block properly formatted and flowing within a proportioned page. Likewise I did not find any widows or orphans throughout the text. I am not one to gnash my teeth nor rend my hair at the occasional misspelled word or grammatical error yet I came to the realization one-quarter of the way through The House of Silence that I was reading such a remarkably clean text I had not stumbled over either of these occurrences and had to admit I may be tempted in the future to pay a premium for such luxury reading experiences.
Of course all this would come to naught if there was no substance within the writing itself. In this regard we are in fine hands with Avalon Brantley. Ms. Brantley built a sterling reputation for herself with her horrifying, richly decadent short stories over the years and the fine craftsmanship that guided her pen through those works is on full display herein. The House of Silence, as I said previously, is a found manuscript novel, in line with Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland or more recently Timothy Jarvis’ The Wanderer. In this case the manuscript purports to be the private journal of one Ashley Acheson returning to his childhood home in rural Ireland for the funeral of his father, the beloved Anglican priest of a decidedly Catholic village. In one of several touches mirroring Hodgson’s life and novels Ashley ran away from home at the age of thirteen to pursue a life at sea, found such an occupation too brutish for his tastes and turned to London to pursue a career in literature. This is the career he is pursuing none too successfully when news of his father’s death reaches him. His brother’s offer to pay passage back to his ancestral home, plus the inclusion of a decades old letter from his first love, is more than enough to draw Ashley back to his ancestral lands.
In these early settings The House of Silence shines. Brantley’s descriptions of the priest’s wake is richly evoked and powerfully told, leaving one to wish such customs were still practiced today. Ashley’s conversations with his childhood friend Loren, a member of the Royal Archaeological Society recently returned to their childhood home to research Irish ring towers, in which Loren discusses the formation and practices of early Irish monastic communities, are both fascinating and foreboding in equal measure.
Brantley’s descriptions of the countryside are another strong point of The House of Silence. Brantley subtly conjures feelings of blasted desolation with simple descriptions of the abandoned farmhouse that once belonged to Ashley’s aunt and uncle. Ashley was sent there to work as a boy by his father when his uncle took ill, the couple having no children of their own to work their meager holdings. Brantley shows her skill in using the landscape to mirror Ashley’s memories of this period of his life. It is also here we mark the transition to O’Brien’s house, a large ancestral home/fortress that belongs to the father of Shannon, another childhood friend of Ashley who once held romantic feelings for him when they were children and now jokes of becoming his patron. This household is being lovingly restored to its original state, including furniture too massive to have been carried up tower stairs that must have been built within the guest rooms themselves, weapons and armaments in various states of decay throughout the house.
Loren, with the natural curiosity of a researcher, cannot resist poking around and reports excitedly to Ashley of vast caverns beneath the household. This does not surprise Ashley as the massive residence resides on the edge of a vast pit into which flows a large subterranean river. Ashley meanwhile finds his time consumed in writing reams of prose and verse, accompanying Shannon’s two children -Briga and Colum who appear to have stepped right out of a seventies folk horror film- and epic drinking binges with Shannon’s father O’Brien.
Brantley does a fairly great job of weaving these threads together. There is a scene beneath the household quite near the end of the novel that I wish had been given a third or fourth pass. I feel given the obvious talents of Ms. Brantley she was more than capable of rendering this part to the uniformly high level the rest of the book led us to expect. Her handling of the folk horror elements on display by the neighboring villagers and O’Brien’s insightful commentary on the only worthwhile commodity the nearby villages have to offer are two cases that come readily to mind. Mayhaps she was hewing too closely to Hodgson in this? If so I would have liked to seen her let slip the successor. Or perhaps she felt the need to stay true to the formula of “early Irish prehistory combined with Hodgson mythos”? I cannot say, nor will it ever be my place. To other readers this may not bother at all. Indeed in a lesser piece it would not have stood out. Only in a work I enjoyed so thoroughly and at such a sustained high pitch would I even bring forth the point. Note also immediately after this she returns to fine form to close out the book with the rich, lyrical prose that built her reputation. I closed The House of Silence with a grateful sigh, knowing I would pull it from my shelves again and again with the eagerness I greet a long-lost friend.
I will always look back fondly on the experience of reading The House of Silence. I say experience because that was precisely what it was. The physical presence of the book, the weight in my hands, turning each crisp page, becoming lost within Avalon Brantley’s lush prose and marking my place with the silk green bookmark became an act outside of normal time, an eagerly awaited eddy I could return to repeatedly simply by opening the distressed green covers. I will admit my aim here is partially selfish. I hope demand for this book grows to such levels that a larger, more affordable printing will be forthcoming. However if you can afford it I say unreservedly The House of Silence will more than repay your moderate investment with a luxury reading experience like few others.
Soundtrack for this review:
You may purchase The House of Silence here.
Feature image by ZWincik. You may see more of his photography here.