“Astonishing! So peculiar, so magical that it bears comparison to The Hobbit or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Golden Compass or the Green Knowe books.” Kelly Link, award-winning author of Magic for Beginners
A 2014 New York Times Notable Book!
A Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2014
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick!
A Publishers Weekly Indie Pick: Big Books from Small Presses!
Welcome to Heap House, the sprawling, slipshod maze of a mansion, built on the “Heaps,” a collection of forgotten trash and curios. Young Clod Iremonger and his eccentric family, the “kings of mildew, moguls of mold,” made their fortune from this collected detritus. The Iremongers are an odd old family, each the owner of the birth object they must keep with them at all times. Clod is perhaps the oddest of allhis gift and his curse is that he can hear all of the objects of Heap House whispering.
Yes, a storm is brewing over Heap House and the house’s many objects are showing strange signs of life. Clod is on the cusp of being “trousered” and married off (unhappily) to his cousin Pinalippy when he meets the plucky orphan servant Lucy Pennant, with whose help he begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family’s empire.
The first installment of the Iremonger Trilogy, Heap House introduces readers to a gloriously imagined dark world whose inhabitants come alive on the pageand in Edward Carey’s fantastical illustrations. Heap House is a book that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl and Mervyn Peake, young and old alike. Mystery, romance, and the perils of the Heaps await!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
For my brother James (1966–2012)
A UNIVERSAL BATH PLUG
Beginning the narrative of Clod Iremonger, Forlichingham Park, London
How It Started
It all really began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day my Aunt Rosamud’s door handle went missing. It was my aunt’s particular door handle, a brass one. It did not help that she had been all over the mansion the day before with it, looking for things to complain about as was her habit. She had stalked through every floor, she had been up and down staircases, opening doors at every opportunity, finding fault. And during all her thorough investigations she insisted that her door handle was about her, only now it was not. Someone, she screamed, had taken it.
There hadn’t been such a fuss since my Great Uncle Pitter lost his safety pin. On that occasion there was searching all the way up and down the building only for it to be discovered that poor old Uncle had had it all along, it had fallen through the ripped lining of his jacket pocket.
I was the one that found it.
They looked at me very queerly afterwards, my family did, or I should say more queerly, because I was never absolutely trusted and was often shooed from place to place. After the safety pin was found it seemed to confirm something more in my family, and some of my aunts and cousins would steer clear of me, not even speaking to me, whilst others, my cousin Moorcus for example, would seek me out. Cousin Moorcus was certain that I had hidden the pin in the jacket myself and down a dim passageway he caught up with me and smacked my head against the wall, counting to twelve as he did it (my age at the time), and lifted me high up onto a coat hook, leaving me suspended there until I was found two hours later by one of the servants.
Great Uncle Pitter was most apologetic after his pin was found and never, I think, properly recovered from the drama. All that fuss, accusing so many people. He died the next spring, in his sleep, his safety pin pinned to his pyjamas.
‘But how could you tell, Clod?’ my relations wondered. ‘How could you know the safety pin was there?’
‘I heard it,’ I said, ‘calling out.’
I Heard Things
Those flesh flaps on the sides of my head did too much, those two holes where the sounds went in were over-busy. I heard things when I shouldn’t.
It took me a time to understand my hearing.
I was told that as a baby I started to cry for no reason. I’d be lying there in my crib and nothing would have happened at all but suddenly I would be screaming as if someone had pulled my scant hair or as if I had been scalded with boiling water or as if someone had sliced into me with a knife. It was always like that. I was an odd child, they said, unhappy and difficult, hard to calm. Colic. Chronic colic. The nursery maids never stayed long. ‘Why are you so bad?’ they asked. ‘Why will you not settle?’
The noises upset me; I was always jumpy and scared and angry. I could not understand the words of the noises at first. At first it was just sounds and rustles, clinks, clicks, smacks, taps, claps, bangs, rumbles, crumblings, yelps, moans, groans, that sort of thing. Not very loud mostly. Sometimes unbearably so. When I could speak I should keep saying, ‘Who said that? Who said that?’ or ‘Be quiet. Shut up you, you’re nothing but a washcloth!’ or ‘Will you be silent, you chamber pot!’ because it seemed to me that objects, ordinary everyday objects, were speaking to me in human voices.
The maids would be so cross when I slapped about some chair or bowl, some handbell or side table. ‘Calm down,’ they kept telling me.
It was only when my Uncle Aliver, recently made a doctor then, took notice of my upset that things began to improve for me. ‘Why are you crying?’ he asked me.
‘The forceps,’ I said.
‘My forceps?’ he asked. ‘What about them?’
I told him that his forceps, which were something that Aliver always carried about him, were talking. Usually I was ignored when I spoke of the talking things, sighed over, or I was given a beating for telling lies, but Uncle Aliver asked me that day, ‘And what do my forceps say?’
‘They say,’ I said, so pleased to be asked, ‘Percy Hotchkiss.’
‘Percy Hotchkiss?’ repeated Uncle Aliver, all interest. ‘Anything else?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘that’s all I hear. “Percy Hotchkiss.”’
‘But how can an object speak, Clod?’
‘I do not know, and I wish it wouldn’t.’
‘An object has no life, it has no mouth.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘and yet it persists.’
‘I do not hear the forceps speaking.’
‘No, but I do, I promise you, Uncle, a muffled, trapped voice, something locked away, saying, “Percy Hotchkiss.”’
Afterwards Aliver would often come to me and listen for a long time about all the different voices I heard, about all the different names, and he would make notes. It was just names that I heard, only ever names, some spoken in whispers, some in great shouts, some singing, some screaming, some sounded with modesty, some with great pride, some with miserable timidity. And always, to me, the names seemed to be coming from different objects all about the great house. I could not concentrate in the school room because the cane kept calling out, ‘William Stratton’, and there was an inkwell that said, ‘Hayley Burgess’, and the globe was rumbling, ‘Arnold Percival Lister.’
‘Why are the names of the objects,’ I asked Uncle Aliver one day, I was but seven or so at the time, ‘these Johns and Jacks and Marys, these Smiths and Murphys and Joneses, why are they such odd names? So different from ours.’
‘Well, Clod,’ said Aliver, ‘it is certain that we are the ones with the less usual names. And that it is a tradition of our family. We Iremongers have different monikers, because we are different from the rest of them. So that we may be told apart from them. It is an old family custom, our names are like theirs that live away from here, beyond the heaplands, only slanted.’
‘The people in London do you mean, Uncle?’ I asked.
‘In London and far away in all directions, Clod.’
‘They have names like the ones I hear?’
‘Why do I hear the names, Uncle?’
‘I do not know, Clod, it is something peculiar to you.’
‘Shall it stop ever?’
‘I cannot tell. It might go away, it might lessen, it may get worse. I do not know.’
Of all the names I heard, the one I heard most of all was James Henry Hayward. That was because I always kept the object that said ‘James Henry Hayward’ with me wherever I went. It was a pleasant, young voice.
James Henry was a plug, a universal plug, it could fit most sink holes. I kept it in my pocket. James Henry was my birth object.
When each new Iremonger was born it was a family custom for them to be given something, a special object picked out by Grandmother. The Iremongers always judged an Iremonger by how he looked after his certain object, his birth object as they were called. We were to keep them with us at all times. Each was different. When I was born I was given James Henry Hayward. It was the first thing that ever I knew, my first toy and companion. It had a chain with it, two feet long, at the end of the chain there was a small hook. When I could walk and dress myself, I wore my bath plug and chain as many another person might wear his fob watch. I kept my bath plug, my James Henry Hayward, out of sight so that it was safe, in my waistcoat pocket while the chain looped out U-shaped from the pocket and the hook was attached to my middle waistcoat button. I was very fortunate in the object I had, not all birth objects were so easy as mine.
While it was true my bath plug was a thing of no monetary value, such as Aunt Onjla’s diamond tiepin (that said Henrietta Nysmith), it was in no way as cumbersome as Cousin Gustrid’s skillet (Mr Gurney), or even my grandmother’s own marble mantelpiece (Augusta Ingrid Ernesta Hoffmann) that had kept her on the second floor all her long life. I did wonder over our birth objects. Should Aunt Loussa ever have taken up smoking had she not been given an ashtray (Little Lil) at birth? She began her habit at seven years of age. Should Uncle Aliver ever have been a doctor if he was not presented with that pair of curved forceps designed for child delivery (Percy Hotchkiss)? And then of course there was my poor melancholy Uncle Pottrick who was given a rope (Lieutenant Simpson) tied into a noose at birth; how miserable it was to see him mournfully limp through the unsteady corridors of his days. But it was deeper than even that, I think: should Aunt Urgula have been taller if she had not been given a footstool (Polly)? It was very complicated, people’s relationships with their birth objects. I used to look at my own and know it fitted me perfectly, my bath plug. I couldn’t say exactly why but I knew it was true. I could never have been given anything else other than my James Henry. There was only one Iremonger’s birth object in the whole family that did not speak a name when I listened to it.
Poor Aunt Rosamud
And so, despite their distrust and mutterings, despite the fact that I was generally left alone, I was called for when Aunt Rosamud lost her door handle. I never liked entering the domain of Aunt Rosamud, and as a rule I should not be permitted in such an uncomfortable pasture, but it suited them that day to have me there.
Aunt Rosamud, truth be told, was old and grumpy, a bit lumpy, and quick to shout and point and pinch. She distributed charcoal biscuits to all us boys willy-nilly. She was apt to trap us upon the stairs and ask us questions about family history and if we got the answer wrong, confusing a second cousin with a third for example, then she should grow itchy and unpleasant and take out her particular door handle (Alice Higgs) and knock us upon the head with it. You. Stupid. Boy. And it would hurt. Exceedingly so. She had bruised, bumped and banged so many young heads with her particular door handle that she had given door handles a bad name and several of us might be cautious when turning such objects, bringing back such memories as they did. It was not a huge wonder then that we school fellows were held especially suspicious that day. There were many among us that should not mourn for the door handle should it never be recovered, and many of us were terrified at how active it should be if it was. But surely all of us felt some sympathy for Rosamud in her loss, never forgetting that Aunt Rosamud had lost something before.
Aunt Rosamud was supposed to marry a man I never met, some sort of a cousin called Milcrumb, but he got caught beyond the wall of the mansion in a great storm and was drowned in the heaps that surround our home. His body was never recovered, not even his particular plant pot. And so Milcrumbless Aunt Rosamud shifted about in her unmarried rooms and hit at the world with her door handle. Until one morning the door handle was, like Milcrumb before it, not about.
Rosamud sat on a high-backed chair that morning, full of misery, and with nothing about her saying Alice Higgs at all, as if she’d been suddenly silenced. She seemed a half thing to me then. There were many cushions stuffed around her and some uncles and aunts hovering beyond the cushions. She didn’t talk, which was unlike her, she only looked ahead, dolefully. The others, though, made much fuss.
‘Come, Muddy, dear, we’re certain to find it.’
‘Take heart, Rosamud, it is not such a small thing, it shall surface soon enough.’
‘Bound to, bound to.’
‘Before the hour is out, I’m sure of it.’
‘Look now, here is Clod, come to listen out for us.’
This latest information did not seem to cheer her especially. She looked up a little and for a small moment regarded me, with anxiety and perhaps a very little hope.
‘Now, Clod,’ said my Uncle Aliver, ‘shall the rest of us step outside while you listen?’
‘That’s all right, Uncle,’ I said, ‘no need at all. Please don’t put yourselves out.’
‘I don’t have a care for this,’ said Uncle Timfy, the senior House Uncle, my uncle whose birth object was a whistle that said Albert Powling. Uncle Timfy blew his Albert Powling so very often when he found something not right. Uncle Timfy the sneak, Uncle Timfy of the plump lips, who never grew above child size, Uncle Timfy the house spy, whose business it was to creep and creep and find disorder. ‘This is wasting time,’ he protested. ‘The whole house must be searched and searched at once.’
‘Please, Timfy,’ said Aliver, ‘it can do no harm. Recall how Pitter’s pin was discovered.’
‘A fluke, I call it, I’ve no time for fancies and lies.’
‘Now, Clod, please, can you hear your aunt’s door handle?’
I listened hard, I walked about her rooms.
‘James Henry Hayward.’
‘Is it here, Clod?’ asked Aliver.
‘I hear your forceps very clearly, Uncle, and Uncle Timfy’s whistle, most particularly. I hear Aunt Pomular’s tea tray right enough. But I cannot hear Aunt Rosamud’s door handle.’
‘You are quite sure, Clod?’
‘Yes, Uncle, there is nothing here by the name Alice Higgs.’
‘You are certain of it?’
‘Yes, Uncle, most certain.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ snapped Uncle Timfy. ‘Get the unwholesome brat out of here; you’re not welcome, child, go to the schoolroom at once!’
‘Uncle?’ I asked.
‘Yes, Clod,’ said Aliver, ‘run along then, thank you for trying. Don’t tire yourself, tread carefully. We must mark this officially: date and time of loss, 9th November 1875, 09:50 hours.’
‘Would you care for me to listen out about the house?’ I asked.
‘I won’t have him snooping!’ cried Timfy.
‘No, thank you, Clod,’ said Aliver, ‘we shall take it from here.’
‘The servants shall be stripped,’ I heard Timfy saying as I left, ‘every cupboard tipped out, everything emptied, every corner disturbed, every little thing!’
A LEATHER CAP
Beginning the narrative of the orphan Lucy Pennant, ward of the parish of Forlichingham, London
I have thick red hair and a round face and a nose that points upwards. My eyes are green with flecks in them, but that’s not the only place I’m dotted. There’s punctuation all over me. I’m freckled and spotted and moled and have one or two corns on my feet. My teeth are not quite white. One tooth is crooked. I’m being honest. I shall tell everything how it occurred and not tell lies but stay with the actual always. I shall do my best. One of my nostrils is slightly bigger than the other. I chew my fingernails. Sometimes the bugs do bite and then I scratch them. My name is Lucy Pennant. This is my story.
The first part of my life I do not remember any more with perfect clarity. I know that my parents were hard people, but showed kindness in their own ways. I think I was happy enough. My father was a porter on the Filching–Lambeth border of London in a boarding house where many families lived. We were on the Filching side but would sometimes go out into Lambeth and from there walk into London itself by way of the Old Kent Road right into it, hearing all the business of the Regent’s Canal. But those in Lambeth sometimes came to us on the borders of Filching and smacked us around about and told us to keep out, to stay in Filching where we belonged, if we were ever caught out of Filching without a pass there’d be trouble.
It used to be a nice place, Filching, so they say, a long time ago, before the heaps were brought here. Forlichingham it used to be known as once upon a time, but no one from here would ever call it that, not if they wanted to be taken seriously. Just Filching, that’s all. Everyone here grew up with the dirt heaps and around them and along them and in them and should serve them one way or another all our lives, either as part of the great army depositing it, or among the tribes that sort it, we’re all of us in Filching one way or another serving the heaps. My mother worked in the laundry of the boarding house cleaning the clothes of so many heapworkers, scrubbing the rubbers and leathers. One day, I told myself, one day they might measure you for leathers and that would be that, you couldn’t expect anything else after that, not once they’d actually measured you for leathers, or ‘married’ you for leathers. That was what they called it, ‘married’, because then you should really give your whole life to the heaps. There wouldn’t be anything else for you after you’d been married. It’d be wrong to expect it.
I would walk about the building where we lived, seeing all the people, all that life. Sometimes I helped clean the different lodgings and then if I saw something that shined particularly or would easily fit in a pocket, I might find it essential. I stole a bit. I remember that part. Just a bit of food sometimes, or maybe a thimble, there was once a fob watch which later in my excitement I overwound. Its face was cracked when I got it, no matter what Father said. If ever I was caught, Father should get his belt out, but I was not caught that often. I learnt to hide these little bits of mine in my hair, I’d conceal them beneath my thick locks, under my plain bonnet, Father never found them there, he never thought to look in that red nest.
There were other children in the building, we used to play together, we went to school in Filching, and most of what we learnt there was about the Empire and Victoria and how much of the globe we were, but also we had lessons in Filching history and about the heaps and their dangers and their greatness. They told us the old story about Actoyviam Iremonger who was in charge of London heaps, of all London’s rubbish brought into our district, a hundred years ago and more, back when the heaps were smaller and manageable, and that he drank too much and fell asleep for three days and so never gave the heap sifters the order to sift and so the heaps just got bigger and bigger, all the used stuff, all the filth of Londoners pouring in, and the job got huger and huger, and ever afterwards the heaps have always had the advantage of us. The Great Heap sneaked ahead and became the gross wild thing it is. Because of Actoyviam and because of gin, and how they worked in partnership. I don’t think I believed a word of it, they just told us it to make us work harder, that story had a message: don’t be idle or you’ll drown in it. I never wanted to be married, I’d rather stay in the building with my parents and work there, and there was no reason, not then, if I worked hard, why I shouldn’t.
It wasn’t a bad life, all told. There was a man upstairs in one of the top rooms who never came out at all, but we would hear him wandering about. Sometimes we put our faces to the keyhole, me and my friends in the house, but we never exactly saw him. How we spooked ourselves about him and then ran downstairs laughing and screaming. But then the illness started.
It was seen first upon things, upon objects. They stopped behaving like they used to. Something solid would turn slippery, something shiny would grow hairs. Sometimes you’d look about and objects wouldn’t be where you’d put them. It was a bit of a joke at first, no one entirely believing it. But then it got out of hand. You couldn’t get things to do what you wanted them to, there was something up with them, they kept breaking. And then some of them, I don’t know how else to say it, some of them seemed so unwell that they were shivering and sweating, and some had sores on them or spots or horrible brown stains. You could really feel that some were in pain. I can’t remember it very well. Only that shortly afterwards, people started getting ill too, they stopped working, their jaws wouldn’t open or they wouldn’t shut, or they’d grow great cracks upon them, or they’d look somehow busted, and they just stayed in a heap and wouldn’t do anything. Yes, that’s it. People started stopping, even as they walked down the street. They’d just stop and they couldn’t be started again afterwards. And then when I came home from the schoolhouse one day there were men outside our basement room, official men with gold braid bay leaves embroidered on their collars, not the green bay leaves that most of the people I knew wore on their everyday uniforms. They wore gloves, these people, and had spray pumps, and the ones that went into our room put on leather masks with round eye windows in them that made them look like some sort of monster. They said I couldn’t go in. I kicked and shrieked hell and smashed my way through but there were Mother and Father, leant up against the wall, quite neatly, as if they were bits of furniture, no life in their faces at all and Father’s ears which were always quite big anyway looked like jug handles. Just for a second, I only saw them for a second, because then other men were screaming that I must not touch, that on no account must there be any touching, and I was pulled away then. And I hadn’t touched.
To see them like that. Father and Mother. I wasn’t allowed to stay. They grabbed me. I didn’t fight so much then. And I was taken away. They asked me if I’d touched, again and again. I said I hadn’t touched, neither Mother nor Father.
I was put in a room on my own for a while. There was a hatch in the door; every now and again someone would look in, to see if I was getting ill too. Some food would appear once in a while. I banged on the door, but no one came. After a long bit, some nurses in high white hats marched in to look at me. They knocked on my head with their knuckles, they listened to my chest to see if I was going hollow. I don’t know exactly how long they kept me in the room waiting, but in the end the door was opened, and men with gold bay leaves looked me up and down and nodded to each other and said, ‘Not this one. For some reason, not this one.’
Some people it took, the illness. And some it didn’t. I was one of the lucky ones. Perhaps, perhaps I wasn’t. It depends which side you come down on. It had all happened before. Heap Fever, as it was called, came and went; this was the first bout of it since I was born.
There was a place for children like me, those made orphans by the illness. It was situated against a bit of the heap wall that was said to have been built just after Actoyviam’s time, and sometimes, if there was a bad storm in the heaps, some object might lift up and dash itself upon the roof. It was a place full of snivelling and yelling, a lot of cowering and swearing went on in those soiled rooms. Every one of us it was certain should be married to the heaps when we came of age, there was no escaping the heaps from that place. And we listened to them smashing and shifting and groaning in the night and knew that, soon enough, we’d be out there in the thick of it. We were got up in very worn black dresses and pointed leather caps that was the uniform of the orphanage; the leather cap was a sign that we belonged to the heaps, that soon enough we’d be out there. Before the illness came, I’d often seen the orphans being marched through Filching in their leather caps; we were not allowed to speak to them, they were always so silent, and there were always unhappy-looking adults marching alongside them. Sometimes, one of us might whistle out to them or call to them, but there was never any answer, and now, there I was, in a leather cap myself, marked out.
There was another redheaded girl in the orphanage. She was cruel and stupid. That ruddy miss was of the opinion that there should only be the one girl with such hair in the place. We fought but no matter how I walloped her there never seemed to be an end of it. I knew given half a chance she should always come at me again, for the spite of it. She was that angry.
I think that’s all right. I think it is. I find it hard to remember, always harder. We never left the orphanage once we were in it, and those old bits of our lives grew so far away and the further away they grew the less we could be sure of them. But I think I’m right. I do think so.
I can’t remember what they look like any more, my own mother and father.
What else was there?
The next big thing.
A man arrived at the orphanage, particularly to see me. He said his name was Cusper Iremonger. ‘An Iremonger?’ I asked. ‘A proper?’ Yes, he said, an actual one of those. He had a golden bay leaf on his collar. It’s their symbol, I should probably explain, the symbol of the Iremonger business, the bay leaf to represent them, because they are powerful bailiffs among other things. This Cusper person said something about my mother’s family, about how her family was related to the Iremongers a while back, a long while back. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘so what am I then, an heiress?’ He told me that I wasn’t but he said there was work, should I want it, in a great mansion. By which he meant the great mansion.
I knew about the Iremongers of course, everyone did, everyone from Filching and all the other wheres beyond too, I suspect. They owned it pretty much. They owned the Great Heap. And they were bailiffs, had been for always, and it was said they owned all the debts of London and called on them when they had the itch for it. They were very wealthy. Odd people, cold people. Never trust an Iremonger, that’s what we always said in Filching, amongst ourselves. Shouldn’t say it to their faces. Lose our jobs for that. No question. I’d heard stories about their house far out in the heaps but I’d never seen it. Just a fat blot in the distance. But now I might. I was being offered employment. It was a chance for me to get away from the heapwork, to leave that leather cap behind, the only chance I was ever likely to get. I should be very glad, I said. Obliged of it. What a bit of luck. ‘I shan’t be married, then?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said, ‘not to the heaps.’
‘You’re on,’ I said.
‘Please to hurry.’
He took me in a dull one-horse carriage away from the orphanage, the nag was thin and shivering, the carriage was old and bashed about. We travelled through the sorting lanes, it was a sunny day, I do remember that, and the heaps were so quiet you could barely hear them, there was blue in the sky, the haze was relatively thin. So there it is: blue in the sky, me smiling as we bumped along to Bay Leaf House, actually to Bay Leaf House itself.
‘What, here?’ I asked.
‘Even here,’ he said.
‘Am I going in?’
‘You are. Momentarily.’
‘What a business!’ I said.
We’d always talked about being inside Bay Leaf House, me and my friends, but none of us ever had. We hadn’t got within a hundred yards of it, we’d be moved on pretty sharp if we did. Family only it was. All the rest, keep out. And here I was in a carriage being driven in, family too. Me an Iremonger! The gates were shut behind me and the Cusper fellow was urging me to hurry. And then we were inside the actual place, and there were offices and desks and people with paper and noises and strange pipes everywhere and clanging noises, and distant thuds. People all done up in collars and ties and all of them yellowish.
‘Show us around?’ I asked.
‘Don’t be impertinent,’ he said, ‘don’t touch anything. Come with me.’
So I followed him down some corridor, people busy either side of us, all of them men. And then at a door that had written upon it TO FORLICHINGHAM PARK we stopped, the next door over said FROM FORLICHINGHAM PARK. Cusper rang a bell that hung above the doorframe, there was a creaking cracking sound and then he opened the door TO not FROM and we stepped inside a cupboard-sized room. He told me to hold onto the railing there. I held on, the man pulled on a rope that hung down from the ceiling, I heard a bell sound somewhere and then the cupboard-room began to move. I let out a scream, the world seemed to shift and we were moving down, down, down, I felt my heart rise into my mouth, I thought we should surely be killed, I thought we were plunging to our deaths. There was a sudden burst of light, the man had lit a small gunny-lamp, he wasn’t even holding on, but smiled at me, and told me not to worry. The cupboard-room stopped with a bump, and went downwards no further.
‘Where are we?’ I asked.
‘Under,’ he said, ‘deep under. You must go under to get where you are going.’
We were at a station. There were train tracks. There were signs painted against the wall saying WELCOME TO BAY LEAF HOUSE STATION and there was an arrow pointing one way which said TO GREATER LONDON and another that said TO IREMONGER PARK. The train was already there and stoked up too, steam pouring out, I was hurried along the platform past many men in dark suits and toppers looking nowhere in particular. There was a goods van at the back with baskets of things and boxes and supplies. I was pushed up inside by Cusper Iremonger; I was the only one there, only me and a lot of things.
‘Sit on a basket, someone will fetch you when the train arrives. Behave yourself.’
And then he slid the door closed and a bit later I found that it was locked. I sat there a good half hour, then I saw through the wire mesh window – there was no glass – a very tall, old man, all dressed up in top hat and long black overcoat with fur collar, marching forwards, and other smaller people rushing and bowing behind him, what a size this old man was, what a grim determined look he had about him as he got on the train. I think the train must have been waiting for him because almost immediately a man in a cap came running along the platform, waving a flag, blowing a whistle, and off we shunted. I looked out of the mesh but soon enough there was nothing to see but black and more black and only black. And smells and fogs came into the goods van which wasn’t sealed and as the train sped on I was dripped upon a good deal, spray coming through the mesh window, and the smell of it wasn’t good. At last the train slowed down and stopped with a screeching whistle which deafened me for a while, and I looked out but could see very little until a while later, when the goods door was slid open and a woman, tall and thin in a plain dress, was saying to me, ‘You’re to come this way and to hurry yourself.’
That was the beginning of it. I had arrived.
A MEDAL (MARKED ‘FOR VALOUR’)
Clod Iremonger’s narrative continued
My Cousin Tummis (and Moorcus)
Before I had quite reached the schoolrooms I was met by the approaching noise:
‘Hilary Evelyn Ward-Jackson.’
That was the particular cry of the birth object of my cousin Tummis, and indeed he rounded the corner a second later.
‘Clod, dear man,’ he panted, ‘so glad to have intercepted you.’
‘Good morrow, old Tummis, you look fair puffed out.’
‘Indeed, I do, I do, and I shall tell you why: school is abandoned for the day, on account of Aunt Rosamud. The teachers have all prodded and patted us down, emptied our pockets and poked us all aboutwards, looking, one and all, for the missing handle, and, it not being found, we’ve been hurried out to be in our own rooms until further notice and not to be in anyone’s way whatsoever, but to holler loudly should we see Aunt Rosamud’s brass headacher.’
I was very often in the company of my cousin Tummis, it was most usual for us, mucking about, chewing the fat, ruminating, cogitating, philosophising, mumbling, tumbling, peaking and troughing. My cousin Tummis was very tall and very thin. Tummis always had Hilary Evelyn Ward-Jackson about him, which was a tap, a tap that would not be out of place in a bathtub; it had a small enamel disc in the centre of its tap-wheel inscribed with an H for hot. It was a very fine object and had had a profound effect upon Tummis because the dear fellow did leak a lot and there was very often a drop of liquid snot hanging from his nose; that drop had such a long way to fall, all the length of Tummis, it must have been quite dead before it hit the ground. He was quite a sensitive fellow, Tummis was, and very concerned for a great many things. He had yellowish hair – it always looked rather uncertain as if it hadn’t quite made up its mind to be hair yet and thought it might really be a cloud, of methane say, it was so very thin, you could see his skull beneath it.
Even though he was already seventeen by the time Aunt Rosamud lost her door handle, Tummis had not married. At sixteen an Iremonger should change from wearing corduroy shorts to long trousers made of grey flannel. At sixteen an Iremonger should marry a wife who has been chosen for him, an Iremonger girl, not a sister or first cousin but certainly a relation of some sort. At sixteen an Iremonger should put away all school things and commence proper work at home in one of the departments in the house, or, if we were particularly gifted, to be employed beyond the dirtheaps in London itself, at least in the borough of Forlichingham, which we could sometimes see in the distance from the windows higher up in the house. It was certainly unlikely that I should be allowed to work in Forlichingham on account of my being ill from a young age, and poor Tummis was being held back from marrying Ormily and from grey-flannel trousers; he was not thought ready.
Tummis loved animals, he loved all the animals that were so numerous about the house, cockroach or rat or bat or cat or blat, and he collected them, he brought them into his rooms, and whenever he had collected too large a family Cousin Moorcus should come to his room and disperse them, often smiting one or two or ten in the process. This may have been the cause of his still wearing corduroy shorts a good year longer than was usual and his knees, still on display, were rather knobbly and embarrassed and they so longed, longed for grey flannel that he kept his hands upon them whenever he could, as if to cover them up, but which actually made them appear all the more naked with those big hands (something like boiled tripe) about them. I suppose Cousin Tummis was rather an anxious creature altogether.
‘No school then,’ I cried to Tummis. ‘A day of rest!’
‘Yes, but, Clod, man, listen up a moment; I should not go home if I were you.’
‘It may be two rooms unkempt and unclean to you, but to me, it’s a palace.’
‘It’s not that, Clod.’
‘Shall we go to your menagerie, then, to caw and shriek with it, old drip?’
‘It’s Moorcus, Clod.’
‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Moorcus, is it?’
Cousin Moorcus, school prefect, my first cousin, the biggest and most handsome of the Iremonger boys, had about him a medal with ribbon that said FOR VALOUR which he wore most unusually out on permanent display. This was the only particular object that had never spoken to me, not a whisper, not a sound; it was most stubbornly silent. But this was a relatively recent phenomenon, just six months ago Moorcus had kept his birth object hidden about his person, and I had often heard it groaning the words ‘Rowland Collis.’ But suddenly, half a year since, Moorcus sported a medal upon his chest, declared this his birth object, and had many locks put upon the door of his apartment. And after that I never heard Rowland Collis no more.
‘Cousin Moorcus,’ repeated Tummis, and held up his hands which were bloody about the knuckles.
‘What has he done?’
‘Not much at all this time, as you see,’ said Tummis, casually examining his small wounds. ‘He was busy enough though, he’s been denting top hats and banging heads, right in front of the masters, and they did nothing to stop him.’
‘They never do, Tummis, they are frightened of him.’
‘He was a little cruel to a couple of the younger cousins, but, and this is most, he was especially disappointed not to search you. He made comments about it, in particular terms not exactly pleasant, that he would, you know, turn you inside out. He remembers, and retold the history, of finding you after poor Uncle Pitter’s pin. Well, dear plug, that’s the story, a penny dreadful to be sure; but don’t go home, lose yourself a bit, be quiet until evensong and then maybe he shall have forgotten.’
‘Thank you, Tummis,’ I said, shaking his hand and apologising as the dear fellow winced, ‘ever so.’
‘I shall head to my home, which will be underpopulated without you. But to my fur beetles and fireblats, to my mealworm beetles and my cockroaches, to my woodlouses and my clothes moths and my phorids, my darkling beetles and flesh flies, my thrips and sowbugs and my pill bugs and midges and grainbugs and earwigs and bot flies and of course to my gull, I shall pass your salutations.’
‘Thank you, my dear tap, I’ll find you later.’
‘Off you go then, plug,’ he said, ‘and be obscure about it.’
So into higher corridors I went, but not quite so high as the attics where the ceilings are thick with disease-carrying bats, kicking up the dust which was deep here and there, watching the progress of a snail or two in damp back rooms, stepping over the slugs, listening out for the rats, hoping to avoid Cousin Moorcus. Cousin Moorcus had broken arms and legs on five different occasions; it was not uncommon for an Iremonger cousin to end up in the Infirmary after Moorcus had been about him. Indeed it was most regular. I was particularly eager, profoundly eager, to avoid him.
I had so often been through the great hulk house, chamber by chamber, in the regions where I was permitted, and through some that I was not, up and down, through long winding staircases, listening to its talking objects, that I knew quite well where I might hide myself. Our home, Heap House, as we called it, was not an original structure; it was built up of other former places. When Grandfather bought up new places, he should often have the buildings dismantled, brought across the heaps, reassembled once more, only this time at a different address, clamped, and bolted, braced and steel-girdled onto our home. Out here deep in the heaplands we had London roofs and turrets, ballrooms and kitchens, outhouses and stairways and many, many chimneys. Huge carts had pulled great masses across the heaps – back when the heaps were still navigable. So I felt, in my way, I was discovering London by walking into those transplanted bits. I sought out London by walking in London rooms, by reading books, by touching places Londoners had actually been. I looked for names scratched on walls and furniture, for people did like to write their names, they liked to leave a proof of themselves, they were all wonderful to me, those names, clues of a greater world. I loved to wander through all those bits of London, there must be many gaps then, over there. It must be something similar, I have often thought, to when a person loses a tooth, only London must have so very many teeth you might not be able to tell. There were small shacks and pieces of palaces in our heap home. It was an enormous building, our place, made up of many other ones. But the original structure, hard to find now, had been in our family for several centuries.
My family lived only with its own kind, Iremongers with Iremongers, full-blooded Iremongers, all steely and grim and poker-faced. There were so many cousins and uncles and aunts, great aunts and great uncles, hordes of us, Iremongers of every age and shape, all connected by blood. And to keep those plentiful people fed and dressed a whole army of servants was needed. These servants were Iremongers too, but they were part-Iremonger, Iremongers of a lesser hue: one of their parents somewhere down the line married someone un-Iremonger and each generation afterwards kept on doing just that. I cannot say exactly how many servants there were, there were many that worked downstairs in the deep honeycomb of the cellars or out in the heaps who never came upstairs.
I was up in a high corridor, much of it taken from a former caulking factory of Tilbury, when the house suddenly shuddered. I held onto the wall waiting for it to finish. There followed a loud and horrible scream. And that was quite usual. It was the scream of Grandfather’s steam engine.
The engine travelled from Heap House into London every morning, and came back at night, with the same horrible screaming and thumping that shook the entire house. The train stopped in the cellar and Grandfather was taken up into the house by a lift pulled by unhappy mules that lived down there in the darkness and never came up. There was a tunnel that ran from the house under the dirtheaps into the distant city.
My grandfather, Umbitt Iremonger, his birth object a silver cuspidor, a personal one, for Grandfather to aim his very own sputum into, ruled over us all. Grandfather came in and went out into the city to do his great service, and when he was out there was a sort of relief in the house, the longer the day wore on the more anxious we would become waiting for the house to scream again, waiting for the noise of his returning locomotive.
The scream fading, I went onwards again. I wandered through the leaking corridors, turning into small cubicles, smaller rooms brought in from here and from there. I often visited these hints of a greater world, for all I had ever known was Heap House. I had never been anywhere else, just Heap House and the heaps themselves.
I thought I should be safe up there, safe and alone, safe with the insects busy about, the rodents in the walls, and the odd maggoty seagull that had somehow found its way into the house but not back out. But up there, in a room originally belonging to a tobacconist’s from Hackney, I heard a hurried whispering that meant I was not alone.
And then there was a sudden light, a lamp came into view and was shone in my face.
I Am Hunted
‘What are you doing there? Who is it? Come out into the light.’
Ingus Briggs, the underbutler, a distant relative of some sort, his birth object a tortoiseshell shoehorn (Thomas Knapp), was suddenly beside me. Mister Briggs had a great collection of pincushions in his sitting room (a girl he once loved had a pincushion birth object). He once showed me his pincushion collection while in a sociability fit, and even begged me to push pins into them, an activity which I believe he did every evening when his duties were finished. He pushed hundreds of pins and needles into materials of varying compliance and this gave him great comfort. Briggs was a small, shiny person; I think in his youth he must have been very highly polished by his parents. I think those old Briggses must have rubbed him night and day with brass rub or silver shine until they could see their own loving reflection in him.
‘What are you doing, Master Clod?’ he asked.
‘I am wandering the house,’ I admitted.
‘Do not let them catch you at it. For they do not like it, they will not have it.’
‘Thank you, Briggs, I will try. But you do not mind, do you?’
‘I mind the candles and gas lamps, I mind the carpets and brooms and shoeblacks, I mind things, things I mind. Not people. People under me, surely. But never do I mind them that are above me, not for me to mind them above, not done, not done at all ever. Have you seen your Aunt Rosamud’s door handle?’
‘No, I am sorry, Briggs, I have not.’
‘It is a great distress.’
‘Briggs?’ I asked. ‘Have you seen Cousin Moorcus?’
‘Not long past he was on your landing, and since he has come into contact with Master Tummis.’
‘Oh, poor Tummis. Where are they now?’
‘I couldn’t say, but you might be wise not to enter Marble Hall, or the refectory, you might not approach the morning room, or even yet any of the downstairs parlours. I should, in a general way, keep yourself more silent. I heard someone walking up here, footsteps above me, that was why I came up. Master Moorcus is very certainly looking out for you, Master Clod. Whilst others seek your aunt’s door handle, he looks for you in the larger cupboards, under stairs. I should, in a general way, move more quietly.’
‘Thank you, Briggs, thanks awfully.’
‘I never said a word,’ said Briggs as he left.
The View From Our Windows
I moved along, I kept in unpopular places, listing rooms with bubbled or peeling wallpaper. In a former barber’s shop, bolted to the third floor, originally from Peckham Rye, a room that I had not been in for several months, and where I thought I should be quite safe from Moorcus, I stood before a window thick with grime, but with a small crack in it, through which the outside whistled in, and, when I put my eye to the slight hole, there was a small view to be had of the outside of what lay beyond our home, of the heaplands in all their majesty. The heaps were calm that day and peaceful, it should have been a perfect day for sorting had not the loss of Aunt’s door handle kept everyone inside.
What People are Saying About This
A 2014 New York Times Notable Book!
A Kirkus "Best Teen Book of 2014"
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick!
A Publishers Weekly Indie Pick: Big Books from Small Presses!
“Heap House is weird, yes. Spectacularly so.”
—Pseudonymous Bosch, The New York Times Book Review
“Heap House—the first in a trilogy set in Victorian England—is a witty, fantastical, sometimes terrifying world, like the best kind of fairy tales. And like many fairy tales, it’s suitable for children as well as adults.” —Austin American-Statesman
"How do I even begin to talk about this exceptional, astonishing book? Reading Heap House I was reminded of Edward Gorey, Lemony Snicket, and Roald Dahl; it's a grimy world with a sepia glow, a Victoriana of malicious clutter. It's an intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate book. It's also gorgeously written. Heap House is, its heart of trash notwithstanding, an absolute treasure." —Amal El-Motar, NPR
“Whimsically gothic…” —Los Angeles Times
"Carey’s Heap House is blanketed in the delicious gray gloom of his native England …Apt comparisons will be drawn to Charles Dickens, Lemony Snicket, and Edward Gorey. Fans of creepy and macabre literature will be drawn to Carey’s illustrations, and fans of brave and whimsical literature will love his wordplay and his fantastical world.” —Bookpeople’s Blog
“This book is funny and charming, and even scary, and so full of wonderful words, it's amazing Carey has any left to use. He also did the fabulous illustrations. I adored it.” —Book Riot
"Edward Carey’s new novel Heap House is his first for younger readers; it’s also a magnificently creepy work regardless of what age you are when you encounter it.” —Vol 1 Brooklyn Blog
"Heap House is the first volume in theIremonger Trilogy, and its cliffhanger ending is perfectly maddening. It's cruel, really, of the publisher to release just one.” —Sonja Bolle, Newsday
“Full of strange magic, sly humor, and odd, melancholy characters, this trilogy opener, peppered with portraits illustrated by Carey in a style reminiscent of Peake’s own, should appeal to ambitious readers seeking richly imagined and more-than-a-little-sinister fantasy.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The first in a deliciously macabre trilogy . . . channels Dickens crossed with LemonySnicket. . . . a Gothic tale in turns witty, sweet, thoughtful and thrilling—but always off-kilter—and penned with gorgeous, loopy prose. Suspense and horror gradually accumulate into an avalanche of a climax, leading to the most precipitous of cliffhangers… Magnificently creepy.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"What an astonishing book this is! A novel for children so good, so peculiar, somagical that it bears comparison to classics like The Hobbit or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Golden Compass or the Green Knowe books. That is to say, adults should read it too, in order to be given the uncanny, wrenching sensation of visiting a new and strange place—and finding a home there." —Kelly Link, award-winning author of Magic for Beginners
“Heap House is delightful, eccentric, heartfelt, surprising, philosophical, everything that an novel for children shouldbe.” —Eleanor Catton, winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries
“Heap House torques and tempers our memories of Dickensian London into a singularly jaunty and creepy tale of agreeable misfits.” —Gregory Maguire, best-selling author of Wicked
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book got every detail that i love in it. They also show a very good imagination at most parts. You must read this book. It is amazing.