On the surface, A House Unsettled (Annick Press, out now), the new novel by Montreal writer Trynne Delaney, is a classic haunted house story (and a genuinely chilling one at that). It’s also a powerful coming of age story, fraught with difficult family and social dynamics as well as an incisive exploration of race, gender, and sexuality that encompasses the historical and the contemporary.
How would you describe A House Unsettled?
It’s a story about a girl, Asha, who’s isolated by a change in surroundings [a run-down house in the country] and tries to engage with her family history while also dealing with her father’s incarceration.
What was the inspiration for the book?
Growing up, I didn’t see many stories about people who are like me. Similar to Asha, the main character, I grew up in Montreal and then moved to New Brunswick. My family is also Black Loyalist and European settler from New Brunswick, so I wanted to make sure the story was reflective of that experience.
Why horror? What is it about the genre that lends itself to this story?
Coming to understand history more deeply as you enter the world as an adult can be pretty horrifying in a lot of ways. Whether it’s personal or political, you start to see how structures affect our day-to-day lives. I wanted to write [A House Unsettled] as a ghost story [to also investigate] the ways the stories we don’t know affect us.
Speaking of ghosts: This is a ghost story, but there are different kinds of ghosts that are haunting our protagonist. Could you break those down?
There’s the obvious ghosts, the spirits in Asha’s house, that have either experienced violence or perpetrated violence and are continuing to manifest their reality. There’s also the more subtle ghosts of the past, histories that she isn’t really connected with yet but starts to understand a bit better. Her dad, who is incarcerated, is also a ghostly presence in her life. Then there’s the brother that Cole, her new neighbour, has lost, and that’s yet another type of ghost.
The novel powerfully foregrounds issues around race, gender, and sexuality; how amenable was the horror genre to these threads?
I think horror has been dealing with problems of gender, sexuality, and race for a really long time. I enjoy looking into that history, and when I watch horror movies, I’m always excited by the interesting ways films engage with it.
Were there books, movies, or other works of art that inspired your approach to A House Unsettled?
Reading [Toni Morrison’s] Beloved was definitely influential for me when I was younger. It made me see horror as a genre differently than I had up until that point. I read [Shirley Jackson’s] We Have Always Lived in the Castle and thought about it a lot while I was writing. And then Candyman, which I put in the book, was a movie that has really influenced me and a lot of my work.
What do you hope readers take away from A House Unsettled?
I hope they take away generosity, an understanding of different people’s perspectives in a situation that’s pretty complex, and find ways to use that generosity to move to a place that’s better and let go of the things they don’t need anymore.
This interview has been edited and condensed.