Ginger Nuts of Horror
As you’ll probably have gathered from previous reviews, I’m pretty well a confirmed Jasper Bark fan at this point. As such, when Quiet Places crossed the Gingernuts review list, I couldn’t resist grabbing it, tottering to-do list be damned. I’d heard some strange murmurings about this one - ‘No sex! No violence! Literary horror!’ - and I was very curious to see how this would play out, especially as the early press also indicated the story formed part of the Heresy series story cycle, a mythology that’s been far from bloodless so far in the Bark catalogue.
Well, and okay, let’s address that first - yes, it’s fair to say this novella isn’t splatterpunk horror in the vein of, say, the gloriously deranged Stuck On You and other prime cuts collection. That said, there’s always been (a lot) more to Bark than a willingness to ‘go there’, and all the other qualities I’ve come to expect and enjoy are present and correct.
Example? Achingly real characterisation. A central thread of the story involves a love story between Sally, our lead, and David, the Laird of Dunballan. It’s a relationship that evokes some past Bark stories - Bed of Crimson Joy in particular - but it’s far from a simple retread. The two characters are fascinating portraits, and the way they interact has a ring of authenticity that is, quietly, rather brilliant.
Similarly, the setting of Dunballan is evoked with skill and care, the surface charms of an idyllic Scottish village subtlety underlaid with feelings of creeping claustrophobia and isolation. Similarly, there’s a lengthy story-within-a-story section in the grand tradition of Lovecraft, which traces in part the outline of the intriguing Heresy that has been a component of so much of Barks recent work, and it too is rich in a very different kind of atmosphere, evoking a past time and society with apparently effortless poise.
And then there is the horror.
I don’t want to give much away - ideally, really, not anything, the joy of discovery was big part of the pleasure of reading this tale, for me - but rest assured, while the lack of splatter is accurate, this one packs a punch as hard and as bleak as any of Bark’s past work, creating, by the end, an existential hellscape to rival that of the last chapter of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.
In conclusion, yes, Jasper Bark has done it again - delivered yet another slice of evocative, dark horror, peopled with flawed yet sympathetic, brilliantly realised characters, and with a black hearted mythology that feels set to grow and grow. And splatter fans, don’t let the lack of overt gore put you off picking this one up - it’s as chilling as anything Bark has so far produced.
The people of Dunballan, harbour a dark secret. A secret more terrible than the Beast that stalks the dense forests of Dunballan. A secret that holds David McCavendish, last in a long line of Lairds, in its unbreakable grip.
It’s down to Sally, David’s lover, to free David from the sinister clutches of the Beast. But, with the whole town against her, she must ally herself with an ancient woodland force and trace Dunballan’s secret back to its bitter origins. Those origins lie within the McCavendish family history, and a blasphemous heresy that stretches back to the beginning of time. Some truths are too terrible to face, and the darkest of these lie waiting for Sally, in the Quiet Places.
Quiet Places is folk horror at its most cosmic and terrifying. Blending folklore with psychological terror, it contains stories within stories, each one leading to revelations more unsettling than the last. Revelations that will change the way you view your place in the cosmos, and haunt you, relentlessly, long after you have put down this book.
Quiet Places is a novella in the Heresy Series story cycle and has been substantially rewritten and revised for this edition.