‘If you see one, stay down, and stay quiet.’
Nothing is as it seems in L.G. Vey’s ‘Holt House’. A novella of the uncanny – horror and the weird, Vey weaves of tale that is more than surface level eeriness.
The origin of ‘Holt House’ is as intriguing as its content. The novella was originally published by the Eden Book Society in 1972. Due to the nature of the society – a small press with minimal private subscribers – the works, and indeed L.G. Vey’s story [published under a pseudonym] were relatively unknown to wider masses. Yet in a turn of brilliance, Dead Ink picked up the rights to the archive and black list in late 2016, making the niche stories available to the public. Each year they select a different year from the archive to reproduce, and you can even become a member of the Eden Book Society almost 100 years after its 1919 conception [pretty cool, no?]. With that, we come to ‘Holt House’ itself.
Raymond, the protagonist, is a voyeur to Holt House and the elderly owners, Mr & Mrs Latch. It’s a house he visited as a child for a sole night, a night he witnessed something in the spare room wardrobe, something so awful it’s made him sick ever since. What he saw, he can’t remember, and so he must find a way to uncover the truth. Throughout we find out just what he saw, and just how much Ray transforms once he finds himself inside the Holt House walls.
Vey too, delves deep into who Ray is as a man – his past, present and future, and there is a sinister fascination with otters [yes, otters] too. Raymond, and indeed Holt House, are not what they seem. The man at the beginning certainly is not the man we are presented with at the end.
‘Holt House’ is undoubtedly eerie – helped by Vey’s knack for lulling you into a false sense of security. The prose is concise and the story tight. But more than that, ‘Holt House’ is an exploration of society and the metaphysical.
Horror is often the vehicle for such conversations. If anyone has read or has had the chance to read the work of Robert Aickman, specifically his short story ‘The Swords’ [for example] then you know that what is presented as weird and off-kilter often has an underlying meaning that hits much closer to the human psyche than originally thought. I’m unsure as to whether this is Vey’s intention [not that it truly matters], but throughout the novella we are presented with the concept of toxic masculinity – or perhaps just masculinity itself. Raymond – and all the other men who have inhabited Holt House, have traits in common – the fear of mortality, of growing old and lonely. As Mrs Latch notes towards the end of the book when Ray questions whether it is her who is casting her spell on the men who find themselves in Holt House – ‘You’re always so ready to blame someone else, anything else. But it’s you. You’re making this happen.’ We find out just what happened to Ray’s missing wife towards the end as well – but I won’t reveal anymore. The thrill of ‘Holt House’ is uncovering it all yourself.
At times surreal – there is a moment where Ray finds himself running through the woods and into the future, perhaps a nod to the psychedelic late 60s/early 70s in which Vey likely wrote the novel, ‘Holt House’ is a neat read for any horror fan [or any fan of reading, to be honest.] The narrative is gripping and Vey switches between voices deftly [when we leave Ray and visit the voice of Mr Latch via his diary, the tale becomes even more absorbing]. The inclusion of Mrs Latch is equally as disturbing as well.
More than just a novella, ‘Holt House’ is a example of great British horror – a page-turner, to be sure, and one I’m glad I had the chance to read.
Holt House is published by Dead Ink part of The Eden Book Society you can purchase it here.
L.G. Vey was born in Southampton in 1921. He served in the Royal Engineers during World War II, and then joined the British Broadcasting Corporation, starting his career in television as a technician. By the end of the 1950s he was an award-winning scriptwriter with a number of well-known horror and science fiction dramas to his name, many of which can no longer be found.
He lived, unmarried, in Hampshire for many years, where he enjoyed walking his Bassett Hounds, fishing, and painting landscapes. He died in 1978. Holt House was his only piece of fiction.
Reviewed by Emily Harrison
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