The Dumb House by John Burnside

"The trick and beauty of language is that it seems to order the whole universe, misleading us into believing that we live in sight of a rational space, a possible harmony." I've been taking a wee break but I just started this book and it's already savagely beautiful #bookstagram

A post shared by Vanessa Santos (@nesscbsantos) on Aug 8, 2017 at 2:41pm PDT

I thought I was prepared for this book, but I was not.

I expected something disturbing and dark, and whilst it is definitely both of those things it’s a lot more unsettling than I imagined. This is the first book in years that actually creeped me out – the atmosphere is expertly built and creates a kind of subtle tension that is always distinctly twisted but still surprises you with its horrors. The narrator’s calmness and logical detachment (though not exactly unfeelingness) make it creepy as fuck freakishly eerie, and as the story progresses and his state of mind changes according to the events so does the tone, in a perfect parallel to what’s going on inside his mind. It really gets under your skin, at certain moments I was feeling actually uncomfortable with the things it was making me think about.

It’s a hard-to-describe book, and definitely one you can’t really get a feel for until you dive in and read it yourself.

Despite being a phenomenally crafted story overall, what makes this book so bloody amazing is the absolutely exquisite writing. It is beyond gorgeous, and the stunning writing, countering the horrific events it’s narrating, make it a beautiful balance of sorts, two halves that only work as one whole – like a certain pair of twins, if you will, an experimental ying yang.

It doesn’t matter who I am, or what I have done. I am nothing other than a mind in space, noticing each detail then moving on, noticing then forgetting, looking then moving on. This is all there is: a vast endless stream of random events – stars, thoughts, spiders, rain, buildings, children, money, lava, blood, sex, pain. Each mind makes what it can of the data but no one can say what sense is. No one can say, with conviction, that one thing is entirely true, while another is false. It doesn’t work that way. When I stop like this, when I stand still and see it all streaming towards me, my own mind empties. The order is coming from somewhere else, and I don’t know what it is. At times like this, language is meaningless. People talk about God, or time, or the great unified field theory, but these are nonsense words. If I allow myself to experience the world fully, I can see that there are no descriptions.”

It’s not a book for everyone, though. I heard a lot of people read this book in one or two sittings, and it definitely keeps you gripped and wanting to read on. However, I found myself stopping repeatedly too – at first because it was just too damn beautiful, I couldn’t take it in all at once, then because awful things started happening and I had to pause a little. Be aware that Bad Things happen – it’s both not as horrible as I’m making it sound, and exactly as bad. It’s hard to explain, I think a lot of it has to do with how it’s written.

I definitely want to reread it, maybe pretty soon. There’s so much to it, so many ideas and so much beauty, that I think you need a second reading to fully appreciate all of it without the initial shock of what’s actually happening.

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