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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

Domestic Dystopias

This is part of a #FridayFlashback series of re-edited and rereleased essays. This essay is a review of Unheimlich Manoevres in the Dark. It was first published Feb 21 2020.

How do we traverse an ‘uncanny world; a place of unquiet homes, bitter-sweet memories and domestic dystopias’? This is the conundrum driving Tracy Fahey’s fiction, steeped as it is in both a scholarly love of the history of horror as well a writers aptitude for finding new avenues for timeless puzzles.

One of the joys of reading Fahey’s The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, published by Boo Books in 2016 and republished by the Sinister Horror Company in 2018, was the references and allusions that pepper the stories: to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stella Gibbons, Stephen King, Douglas Coupland and so on. To these, the new accompanying 100-page chapbook has furnished names such as E.T.A. Hoffmann and Shirley Jackson. But beyond its participation in a conversation of texts, these stories (new and old) are deeply personal, and thereby enriched with a unique pathos and a singular exploration of — to use a brilliant phrase — domestic dystopias.

Unheimlich Manoeuvres in the Dark, the aforementioned chapbook, is an add-on to the 2020 deluxe edition of Unheimlich Manoeuvres. I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy of the 2018 printing and reviewed it on Medium, which is quoted by Fahey in an opening essay. In ‘Domestic Spaces’ the author grounds her collection in a literary tradition, as a response to Sigmund Freud’s essay ‘Das Unheimliche’ (‘The Uncanny’). Fahey writes that the title comes from an essay by Alexandra Warwick, and that the core this work is Freud’s idea (indebted to Friedrich Schelling) of the return of the repressed.

Freud stressed the role of familiarity when evoking the repressed in supernatural writing, and the domestic (the home as a primal place) is how Fahey powerfully renders the familiar in her work. This notion of home is autobiographical, too, and therefore often located for Fahey specifically in Ireland, ‘The concept of home in Ireland is both a place of safety and a place of terror.’ That is, of colonial rule and the resulting traumas.

The fiction this produces is one we can perceive quickly in a story of ancestral atrocity, ‘I Wait For You’, the perspective of which inverts the standard point of view of a gothic narrative to take on the first person of the haunter, rather than the hauntee. It has something of H.P. Lovecraft’s’ The Outsider’ about it, but rather than remain at a remove from the world, Fahey’s ghostly narrator is a commentary on history and place.

A master of evoking the eerie, Fahey’s descriptive detailing in the opening piece, ‘Haunted By The Ghost’, feels as if it were in slow motion, with its ‘wooden window frame’ that ‘breathes inn and out with the night breeze’, a spider web that ‘sways tremulous’, ants that ‘scurry in formation’ and ice cream carried ‘across the beach; soft, melting, cold at the core.’ And all of this, caught in a ‘dazzling sunshine.’ It’s like a scene from a David Lynch film, saturated by sensation, rendering it almost hyperreal, and in that excess somehow also oneiric and askew. It is also a vignette of two impressions of a place, a literal return.

Picking up a motif of grief from the first story, the second, ’That Thing I Did’, is about what happens when someone’s world is undone, ‘my scaffolding is coming apart.’ The piece is all pathos and confusion, ‘a dull resentment that flares into a sudden fury.’ But the rage has a context, a pain without a social outlet, ‘Somehow it seems undignified. Inappropriate.’ What emerges is as much an interrogation of masculinity as it is of loss; Fahey has shown astute insights on the domestic horror faced by women, but here she achieves the same for men.

The other two stories of the chapbook, ‘The Wrong House’ and ‘Possession’, share with ‘I Wait For You’ a fixation on place and haunting. The first is pure uncanny, but with a clever twist that asks us about the nature of the realities we inhabit, and our role in recreating them. The second is a meditation on the nature of homes, and has one of the best observations of the entire collection: ‘We think we possess houses, but the reverse is true.’ This could be the byline for the entirety of The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, a bold collection with a strong authorial vision about that terrifying but obscured reality, hidden by the mundane.


Fahey’s work is available from Sinister Horror Company.

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