Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Outcast and the Rite - Helen de Guerry Simpson

I'm very late reading this - I had meant to review it in time for its release date but getting married and getting covid intervened. I took it away with me to Scotland (it's been back and forth to my mother's a few times this summer as well, but the dog had other ideas about how we could spend our time, which mostly involved walking around fields) but as ever packed far more books than I could read and didn't get to it. 

This October has been a godsend for catching up on anything remotely spooky, weird, or unheimlich though, and so I've finally got down to it, found a couple of stories I knew and loved from other anthologies, and really fallen for Helen de Guerry Simpson in the process. 

The subtitle here is Stories of Landscape and Fear, 1925 -1938, but these are not ghost stories - or at least if one or two of them are, on the whole the collection leans much more towards unsettling than anything else. Even then it's not in a seriously scary way, although there are moments of recognition that may well come back to haunt me. 

Maybe my favourite story is 'Disturbing Experience of an Elderly Lady' which I had read before. Mrs. Jones has been left a wealthy widow who decides to use her newly acquired money to buy a stately home once glimpsed from a charabanc window. Its dignity had made her feel small, and now she's determined to destroy it. The house is just as set on saving itself, which it aims to do by charming Mrs. Jones into submission. What follows is a gently humorous battle of wills that reaches a tipping point in one of those moments of recognition.

As Much More Land adheres more closely to the traditional ghost story - and reminds me a little of Saki. It quietly lulled me into a sense of all being well and then had a deft little twist at the end which was definitely unsettling. And so it goes on. these are not stories to outright scare the reader, rather they're designed to make us think, or remember the times the sky has seemed too big over the landscape, the night too dark, the woods too overgrown and rank for comfort. 

Or there's Good Company which takes a lone and complacent traveler and then places her in exactly the sort of danger women fear and so often encounter. Again it's the moment of recognition that adds the fear - the all to familiar feeling of vulnerability at the hands of someone physically stronger than yourself. 

This is a great collection of stories from a writer who really ought to be better known. The next time I read them it'll be in the light of a long northern summer's evening which is a different type of spooky to the short nights of autumn winter - and to which I think her mood is better suited. It's something to do with her humour and the subtle way she mixes all the elements of her work. But honestly, buy this book - it's something special to add to any weird collection. 

Find the book here - Handheld Press


  1. Your wonderful way with words - ‘...the sky too big...’ - makes this ‘unheimlich’ collection sound truly enticing. Thank you for the heads up!

    1. Honestly, read anything from Handheld - I've never been disappointed.