Monday, 24 September 2012

***UTTER FILTH WARNING*** House of Holes by Nicholson Baker

My current favourite
is "Famished sluthole"
In order to truly do justice to this book, and the rather spiffy reputation of Mr Baker for clever and challenging fiction, I attempted to read several reviews, posted around the time of publication, in many British broadsheets of firm middle-groundedness and of some repute. This may or may not be a cardinal sin of lazy reviewers, but I was in need of inspiration, prior to beginning reading, to keep my focus, as from what I understood of Baker's latest "novel" (parenthesis may be clarified later) it could curdle a bishop's milk. 

Embarking on this tangent, you may expect that I found something unusual in my foraging. Indeed, the unexpected truffle among the mushrooms was the near constantly vituperative tone of most reviewers (the one exception - a rather entertaining piece in The Paris Review). Filth, pornography, and (sad to say I can't remember which review this was in, despite going in search of it a second time) a wank-book*, were just some of the surprising epithets cast about, some slanderous mud which, of course, was bound to stick to the mind of the consciously critical reader. "The dastardly swines!" thought I, champion of such cute verbose naughtiness as that of The Fermata, "How dare they sully my reading experience with such unfounded..." etc. [Damn, I bore myself sometimes - ed]. 

But, darn it all, they weren't wrong, reviewers and their epithets both. HoH is a series of rather daft sexual set-pieces with only a very confused framework of narrative continuity.

With the current outcry over literary filth - no names mentioned - one might understand the issues of the reviewers. The broadsheeters rightly point to the curious dream-like quality of the writing, the fleetingly fantastical situations and complete openness of all of the characters once they had arrived in the House of Holes (for the sake of context, HoH is a place where one's sexual fantasies are explored at an exorbitant cost and access to which is achieved via O-shaped portals hidden throughout the world - insert Freudian analysis here) including openness of thought, of speech, to suggestion and action, and suspension of disbelief, something I doubt Baker had any intention of creating in the reader. However, the action is all extremely explicit, sexually complicated (whilst emotionally straightforward) and blatant to the point of silliness, made all the more daft by, for me, the single redeeming feature of the book - the Viz-esque cornucopia of author-begotten sexual language. I have appended a list of some of the more entertaining metaphors, similes and imagery  to the end of this review, just for my own amusement and perhaps for your delectation. I can honestly say I have no idea what Baker is doing. I hasten to add "in writing this book" to that sentence. Ahem.

You could say I am disappointed, but then perhaps that's the point. I can imagine Baker thinking of his reader reading his arousing words with the avuncular bearded face of the author hovering in the background and engendering a confused mix of repulsion and lust and giggling to himself, schoolgirlishly, like John Barth might if he found a way to insinuate reported speech retold by a millionth narrator into yet another book about the Chesapeake Bay of his semi-retirement. Perhaps Baker is just being a dick for effect. Or perhaps this is catharsis of a sort, or counselling by the media, or artistic suicide by smut. I don't think I could second guess his motives, but I can enjoy the silliness, if I let the brain switch off. Give it a read if you want to draw your own conclusions, but I would advise against an overly public space.

As promised, some rude words over which to chuckle - I will let you translate yourselves:
Pornstarch
Bungee hole
Thumper bean
Peeny wanger
Blood-pulsing truncheoon
Slippery salope
Twisted shitter
Stiff fleshbone
Famished sluthole

*Hey, I found it! In an overly intelligent-sounding, but ultimately lackadaisical review in, that's right, you guessed it, The Guardian, James Lasden coins the limp phrase "Wank Book".

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