The writings of William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) have inspired a number of later writers, beginning with the first Carnacki, The Ghost Finder (1913) pastiches of “John Nicholson” (pseudonym of Norman Parcell), Costelloe—Psychic Investigator (1954), which have been followed by a growing number of other Carnacki pastiches, most notably those co-written by A.F. Kidd and Rick Kennett and collected in No. 472 Cheyne Walk (1992; expanded 2002). Hodgson’s The Night Land has been “retold” by James Stoddard in 2011, and Andy W. Robertson edited two volumes of tribute stories, William Hope Hodgson’s Night Lands (Volume I: Eternal Love, 2003, and Volume II: Nightmares of the Fall, 2007). With more originality but still showing Hodgsonian influence, there are Iain Sinclair’s Radon Daughters (1994) and Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time (2008).
Now comes Avalon Brantley’s The House of Silence (Zagava, 2017). This edition is limited to only 170 copies, a frustratingly low number because this book deserves a larger readership. One hopes that an affordable paperback may be forthcoming. Yet in general terms The House of Silence is a difficult book to describe and a more difficult book to assess. Some aspects of it are brilliant, while others seem strained by self-indulgence on the part of the author.
Ostensibly the book is an example of the found-manuscript trope, and the bulk of the story is purported to have taken place sometime in the late 1940s. It is the first person narrative of Ashley Acheson, who is returning to his boyhood home near Ardrahan in the west of Ireland. Ashley ran away to go to sea when he was thirteen, and this homecoming is brought about because of the death of his father, an Anglican priest. Here you begin to see the resonances with Hodgson’s own life—he ran away at thirteen to go to sea, and for a short while when he was young, he lived near Ardrahan where his father was an Anglican priest for a few years beginning in 1887. Names recur in the novel from Hodgson’s real family—his father was Samuel, mother Lizzie (plus a sister Lissie), and he had brothers Frank (Francis) and Chris. In The House of Silence, Ashley has siblings named Samuel, Lizzie, and Francis, and a cousin Chris. Hodgson published in 1917 a silly poem he wrote called “Amanda Panda.” In The House of Silence, Ashley has written a poem of the same title about a childhood girlfriend named Amanda whom he called Amanda Panda. What the point of all these casual references are I do not know.
More seriously, The House of Silence evokes the specifics of two of Hodgson’s novels, The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912). The locale of Ardrahan and specifically one unique house comes right out of the former novel and finds its way into The House of Silence. There are other resonances taken right out of The Night Land. What is entirely non-Hodgsonian is the way that Brantley tries to bring what might be called the Hodgson mythos in line with early Irish prehistory, its gods and heroes. It’s an intriguing attempt to align the two together, but I don’t think it works. Indeed, what Hodgson set out to do with The House on the Borderland in terms of cosmic significance seems to work very much against the bringing of any of it together with Irish mythology. The attempt seems to me to diminish the power one finds in Hodgson. Which is not to say that Brantley fails completely. It’s entirely to her credit that she brings it all together as much as she does.
Alas, this book is evidently Brantley’s only novel. Just after publication it was announced that she had passed away. Given the details of her life (1981-March 5, 2017) and residence in West Virginia, I could find no corroborating evidence that such a person really existed. For this and other reasons I assume “Avalon Brantley” was a pseudonym. She published two other books, a play Aornos (Ex Occidente, 2013) and a collection of short stories, Descended Suns Resuscitate (Zagava, 2014). I hope sometime we learn the real story behind this author and this book.