Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Review: The Dumb House

Once again, I am late to the party.  

Last summer, Jen Campbell drew attention to John Burnside's first novel, reissued by Vintage UK in along with a series of modern Scottish classics in paperback, and the booktube/ bookblogosphere world was soon #Burnsided.  

I'm not immune from hype, but the novel is difficult to source in North America (unless you order from The Book Depository) and I was busy starting a new job so I didn't get around to the novel until December when I bought the eBook version for my *new* Kindle.  I started reading the novel in December.  I finished reading it today, February 20.  This is not a reflection of my reading ability, folks.

For those who are unfamiliar with the novel, The Dumb House is about a young man who, as a child, was fascinated by Akbar the Great's "Gang Mahal," or dumb house, where infants were kept in total silence, attended to by mutes, in an effort to learn if language is God-given or learned.  As an adult, the narrator attempt to recreate the experiment with his children.

So, so many people whose reviews I rate highly love this book; I, on the other hand, have a love/hate relationship with it.  The novel is beautifully written; there are lovely passages that touch on the soul and the essence of language and human connections that are jaw-droppingly beautiful.  However, these beautiful moments are punctuated by plot points that are deeply, deeply,  disturbing: the novel is an anthology of trigger warnings-- animal mutilation, child abuse, rape, alcoholism, [possible] incest, and human mutilation are the triggers that readily come to mind.  

There are many readers who are entranced by Burnside's poetic, philosophic prose, readers who can overlook the sickening events that populate the novel.  I cannot.  I appreciate The Dumb House's narrative beauty, but I am chilled by its plot.  

Perhaps I am too faint of heart.

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