Jonathan Tel

Nicholson Baker’s new novel is a bizarre riff on pornographic themes. The problem is it’s just not creepy enough…

House of Holes
By Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster, £14.99)

“She went to a quarry with her Geology 101 class…It was vast and they dug granite there, mostly for tombstones…She turned away from the edge, and that’s when she saw a hand poking out from behind a rock.” This may sound like the starting point of a murder mystery or a horror story, but in Nicholson Baker’s new novel, House of Holes, the detached arm turns out to be a sentient sex-toy. It invites the woman to follow it.

As anybody who’s fallen in love with a beauty or taken care of a toddler knows, people obsessed with their own desires can be irresistibly charming. Baker has made his literary career out of expatiating on his offbeat interests. His first novel, The Mezzanine, which appeared in 1988, has the slimmest of narrative threads: a office worker goes shopping for shoelaces during his lunch hour. Meanwhile he muses on the technology of escalators, the history of drinking straws, and much else. Part of the fun of the book is Baker’s delight in language; he stretches out his sentences, always ready to toss in a a bonus metaphor or a nugget of recherché vocabulary. The structure is ingenious, replete with footnotes; he studied music, and the text feels composed and orchestrated.

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