Review: The Dumb House – John Burnside

thedumbhouseThe Dumb House has made quite an impact on the bookish community in the last month or so and having heard nothing but good things I had to join on the bandwagon. This is a new edition of John Burnside’s first novel, published in a beautiful Vintage redspine edition in a collection of Scottish Modern Classics. After reading this I will be getting my hands on more of both John Burnside and the series of Scottish Classics because this book is just incredible.

The novel follows the story of Luke, possibly the most unreliable narrator I’ve ever encountered, as he lives through a fairy tale his mother told him as a child. The in fairy tale his mother told him, Akbar the Great filled a palace with newborn children, who were cared for only by mutes; done order to to learn whether language was innate or learned. Of course the children never learned to speak, but Luke’s obsession with this idea leads him to carry out his own experiment, creating his own dumb house.

The only way to describe this is Criminal Minds, in literary form. It is both wonderful and disturbing in equal amounts. It is disjointed but makes perfect sense. It is by no means an easy read, this should have trigger warnings on it for everything (rape, child cruelty, animal cruelty, violence, murder etc.) and is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. It is however absolutely fascinating and I think it is a book I will continually think about. It is all shades of disturbing but damn, it just had this quality that numbed it somewhat – as a reader I felt distanced and very much like a fly on the wall; unable to do anything but not taking my eyes off what is unfolding in front of me.

Overall, I had to think for the best part of a day on what to give this book in terms of rating. Some of it is just so wrong and made my skin crawl but, on the other hand it was a book I could scarcely put down, it was a book that held my attention and will have me thinking for a long time. It was beautifully written and that can’t be ignored. I eventually settled on a 5/5 because the content, while difficult to read, is honestly no worse than what I would watch on something like Criminal Minds. It just feels a lot more personal and difficult to accept when written down. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read this year, not sure I can say it is the best but definitely up there, it is one that will keep me thinking and stay with me so that itself is something. I wouldn’t say this is a book for everyone, it’s really not, but if you like slightly twisted things or maybe can stomach something like Criminal Minds, I think this book is worth a shot.