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Book Review

Book Cover

The Dark Nest (Hardback)


Author: Sue Harper
Illustrations: Jan Konupek
Publisher: Egeaus Press Keynote Edition

192 pages
RRP: £20.00
ISBN: 978 191646 576 3
Publication Date: 25 April 2020

Sue Harper, Emeritas Professor of Film History at The University of Portsmouth, approaches film through its reflections in society and society through its reflections in film. Facing Mirrors with the individual in the cross-fire. The changing social definition of self as both contemplated and contemplater is her passion. Her books, often sylabus requirements in film courses, bear this out. Picturing the Past: The Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film: British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure (with Justin Smith); British Cinema of the 1950s: The Decline of Deference (with Vincent Porter) and Women in British Cinema: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.

The last title is key for us for it hints at the portal of Harper’s mind, original, iconoclastic, surrealist and in Harper’s own words, weird. It is all of these facets that Harper’s book of short stories explodes in our face. Unforgettable. Tactile absurdity.

Fantasy in the extreme. Indeed, she pushes the boundaries of the extreme. We who think we’ve seen and heard everything get clockhanded and knocked flat.

The stories are short but set their frame instantly in words, identification and narrative moibus. In this age of cyber conformity, she is a refreshing challenge. Weird  indeed. An antidote to fantasy requiring spandex pants, capes and masks.  Harper wears no spandex but her body is a statement.  She needs no cape because she flies in civi-clad disguise.  A mask is unneeded because her psychic third eye has fooled us before we read the first page. Too much hyperbole here? Let’s imagine you have The Dark Nest in your hands and thumb to one of the forty seven stories.

From Moby Dick:

“Sarah was beach-combing.  It was just past low tide, and she could see for miles. The level sands in the distance mingled with the sea and the sky. She found some shells, a skein of seawood, a child’s plastic bracelet, a salty lump of wood.  These were all close by: but in the distance, all of a sudden, she saw something huge on the sand. It must be a beached whale and was about 30 feet long: how sad! She set off at a trot to investigate.

When she got there, she sank to her knees with shock.  It was no whale at all, but a gigantic penis.  She walked around it.  The parts were all there: the frenum, the foreskin, the veins. No testicles - they must have been torn away in a storm perhaps.  Anyhow, what was she to do?” . . .

Yes, what indeed was she to do?  Or The Door:

“That was the day when Cecile finally knew what she had to do. It was a Friday, and overcast: The kind of day when you never knew what kind of clothes to wear. However, something had to be done. Things could not go on as they had before.

For some time Cecile had not felt like her own self. There had been some odd symptoms. Her head felt as though it was alternatively swelling and shrinking: sometimes her hat felt tight, so that it left a red weal on her forehead, and sometimes it felt loose and fell down onto her nose. And the sproutings! Little coarse clumps of hair grew, grew in odd places.  They came suddenly and they went swiftly too. And the lumps: she could see little escrescences that traveled slowly, slowly  up her arm, across her chest and down the other side. He toes lengthened, so that she could no longer wear shoes, and her hands became prehensile. Most unsettling of all was the colour of her eyes.” . . .

And The Homunculus :

“Shelly was feeling very unwell. It was a fullness, but with sharp edges. It became impossible for her to bend over or sideways., and her body began to feel monumental somehow. She hated surgeries. In the end, though, she went, and the doctor’s face was grave after he felt her stomach.

He sent her for a scan at the local hospital. When the results came, the experts were nonplussed:  ‘there is something wedged under your ribs and down into your pelvis. We’ll have to open you up.’ When she awoke after the operation, she felt better than she had for months: empty, lissom almost almost. She could bend.

The specialist came to her bedside:  ‘look, there’s no easy way to say this, but we have found a coffin lodged in your body cavity.’ . .

Harper has been criticized with various conflations.  Untrammeled imagination is often met with jealously.The runner who is outpaced often complains about the victor’s unusual stride and unorthodox style. This is the reaction to a true original.

Harper’s images stick like glue, her morales laugh at the meaning of ordinary meaning.  She is a treasure and as we speak, is writing more stories.  I can’t wait to read them.

Check out her website:


John Huff

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