19 December 2019

Review: The Dumb House by John Burnside

The Dumb House by John Burnside book cover
I wanted to read another classic before the year ends and this time I picked up The Dumb House by John Burnside. A Vintage Classic published in 1997, this is a very dark poetic novel I've been looking forward to reading for years.

Told in the first person by our reclusive and strange bachelor Luke, this is a short novel about his search for proof of the living soul. Luke has concluded that communication is the basis for the soul, and wonders whether children raised without language will have the means to develop thoughts. Furthermore, if a person has no language to form coherent thoughts, do they have a soul?

The premise of the book is an experiment whereby Luke raises children without ever exposing them to language. Keeping them in isolation and constantly observing their behaviour, our protagonist is on alert for any evidence of a newly developed language or means of communication.

I thought the book would focus on the experiment and the results, but just as in The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan, the storyline deviated from the experiment. We learn about Luke's unusual upbringing and his odd relationship with his mother in addition to his depraved activities with women he is attracted to.

Luke is a despicable and deranged man and while I've always been interested in reading from the perspective of the 'bad guy' so I can find out what makes them tick (e.g. You by Caroline Kepnes and Hangman by Jack Heath), on this occasion I felt like I needed to wash my hands each time I set this book down.

It really is a grubby little book full of beautiful poetic writing with a very dark and twisted core at its centre. I really don't know how it became a Vintage Classic, other than the fact it explores the ideals of what makes us human, the makeup and location of the soul and the importance of language and communication within society.

There's no doubt these philosophical ideas are worthy of examination, I just wish I'd explored them from a better vantage point. There was no redeeming conclusion to the novel either, just the hinted continuance evident in The Choke by Sofie Laguna. Life goes on.

My apologies to anyone who has heard me rave about this book or seen it on my TBR and added it to theirs. Not recommended.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★ ★ ★

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