The Dumb House - John Burnside

Genre: Dark Fiction/Horror
Synopsis: In Persian myth, it is said that Akbar the Great once built a palace which he filled with newborn children, attended only by mutes, in order to learn whether language is innate or acquired. As the year passed and the children grew into their silent and difficult world, this palace became known as the Gang Mahal, or Dumb House. In his first novel, John Burnside explores the possibilities inherent in a modern-day repetition of Akbar`s investigations. The unnamed narrator creates a twisted varient of the Dumb House, finally using infant twins as subjects in a bizarre experiment.


Review: Well this was.... bizzare. I love a good, really dark story that is psychologically messed up (I don't know what that says about me but let's not dwell on it!) and this book definitely met both of those criteria but... I just don't get it. I don't get why people think its such a magnificent novel. I didn't *not* like it - the writing is absolutely fantastic (and I plan to read more by Burnside based on this alone) but the plot never really grabbed me. While I was fasincated enough by the idea to want to finish it - and it was easy to finish because of the writing - I came away feeling unaffected.

It's a pretty bleak, graphic novel in places, depiciting both animal and human abuse, and while those parts were naturally unsettling, I couldn't relate to the bigger picture. Our narrator remains nameless until the end, though we come to know him quite well through his descriptions of adult and childhood life, and I just never really related to him or his goals. I know nothing about language, so my enjoyment of the novel may have been handicapped by ignorance, but to me language and communication are two distinct things - the former rising from the latter, and while I don't think any one language is innate, the desire to communicate is and therefore will give rise to some form of language. None of what I just said is ever mentioned in the book - it is only referred to as 'seeking to determine if language is innate'. Granted, our narrator is very disturbed, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

The other thing I think which may have affected my enjoyment is that the Goodreads synopsis tells you THE ENTIRE PLOT. I have modified the synopsis on this review to lessen spoilers, but I would still be inclined to let potential readers know that the bizzare experiment with the twins only occurs towards the very end of the book - it is not the focus, as I thought going in. I was pretty disappointed by that, as I was expecting much more of a straight up horror. Rather than being any kind of horror, this is much more an insight of one guy's twisted mind and life.

Enjoyed the writing, but fairly indifferent.

Rating: 3/5

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