Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The House of Paper: Review

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez begins with Bluma Lennon, a distinguished professor of Latin American literature at Cambridge, who attempts to cross a street while immersed in a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson and is killed in a traffic accident. In the months that follow, a package addressed to her arrives from Argentina. It contains a Conrad novel, crusted with cement and containing a mysterious inscription. Bluma's successor in the department decides to try and track down the sender to return the book. He discovers that the sender is Carlos Brauer, someone Bluma met at a writer's congress in Monterrey--and who has disappeared himself. The narrator's journey takes him to Uruguay and on a journey to discover where Brauer went and why he built a house out of his fabulous library.

I am very on the fence with this one
. On the one hand, it has some very interesting commentary on books and the people who love them. Domínguez provides great insight into the differences between the common reader and the bibliophile and the collector. The common reader likes to read--may even collect books to an extent and scan their friends' shelves to see what they're reading and if there's something they want to put on the TBR list. Bibliophiles have their own libraries--in extreme form they spend every penny they can on books and use up all the available room they have to house them. They truly believe that "there is no such thing as too many books" [all who agree please raise your hands]. It's possible they catalog their books. Then there are the collectors who consider their books as works of art. They display them. They keep them pristine. They pull them down from the shelves only to show them off or to gloat over them.

On the other hand, the story itself is not entirely satisfying. The blurb on the book flap calls this novel "part mystery, part social comedy, and part examination of all the many forms of bibliomania."
Told as an allegory about readers and book lovers, The House of Paper works very well. I will even allow the social comedy, but as a mystery, it falls down on the job. In fact, there isn't much time for mystery at all. The clues follow one another in pretty succession. He only need speak with one contact to discover most of the story. And the ultimate solution is very tidily handed to the narrator on a silver platter. I find it highly unlikely that he could just waltz into his former colleague's office and immediately bring up information on her computer. Passwords, anyone?

A very quick, light read. Very enjoyable if you want a book about books and book lovers. If you're looking for a satisfyingly mysterious plot line, not so much. Three stars out of five.

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