Review: Carlos María Domínguez’s “The Paper House: A Novel”

by writereaderly

carlos maria dominguez the paper houseI’ve been lending this book out willy-nilly ever since I re-established my bookshelf, and Sunday morning turned out to be the perfect time to reread it myself, out from under the current lender’s nose. It was gifted to me years ago by SJD, and has travelled widely since, but I loved it enough the first time to keep sending it onto each subsequent new abode. This was only the second read…

It is a *very* short “novel”, which unravels the mystery of Uruguayan book collector Carlos Bauer, and a book caked in cement dust which appears in the office of the now deceased Cambridge academic, Bluma Lennon. The narrator, an Argentine academic based in the UK, travels and explores and dreams, and the reader is invited to contemplate eternity, loss and obsession.

The framing story with Bluma a little inexplicable and almost unnecessary, but I found the central conceit of the small novel very powerful. I think this novelita was also a response to Joseph Conrad’s The Shadow Line, which I know nothing of. However, I enjoyed the momentary seduction of the world of book obsessives and collectors, and was grateful that I had some knowledge of classic Latin American literature to help me with the multifarious literary references (many recent friend-readers found these too daunting to finish the book…). I found the illustrations whimsical and charming, but only thematically related to the text (i.e., books are mystically linked to the human subconscious); a smart publisher’s trick to sell a mini-novel.

Good; it can stay on the very select Keeper Shelf.

Where it came from: My Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Two Sunday-morning reads
Where it went: Back home
Reminds me of/that: A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel; The Times Deceas’d by Timothy d’Arch Smith
Who I’d recommend it to: Book obsessives, particularly those with collector’s tendencies
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; Selected Essays by George Orwell; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Kalila and Dimna by Ramsey Woods