Reader beware: The Dumb House is not for the faint of heart. This debut novel by Scottish poet John Burnside is subtitled A Chamber Novel, but "Chamber of Horror" might better describe it. The central character and narrator is Luke, a terrifyingly lucid madman with a hankering to "know the soul." His deceased mother told him once that the soul resided in language, and he's been obsessed ever since with discovering if this is true. To that end, Luke takes a page from an old fable about a king who kept babies sequestered in silent isolation in order to discover whether language is a natural or an acquired skill. For his own experiment, Luke impregnates a young stranger, takes the twins she gives birth to and locks them up in a basement where he raises them in complete silence. Eventually, however, the children begin to annoy him, and Luke feels he must "cut them down." How he does this isn't pretty.From dissecting live animals as a boy to his latest outrage perpetrated on his own infant children, Luke is completely unconcerned with the sufferings of others, so intent is he on his "scientific" inquiries after the human soul. The fact that he is obviously lacking in this department is one of the book's ironies. The gruesome details are plentiful enough in Burnside's novel, but it is what goes on in the mind of this depraved character even more than what happens under his scalpel that terrifies; The Dumb House is likely to be one of those books that sticks in your memory long after it's done, whether you want it to or not.
Paperback Very Good