The Paper House by Carlos Maria Dominguez, Translated by Nick Caistor
This beautifully illustrated novella by Dominguez, an Argentinian author, is about people who are obsessed by books, and whose houses become libraries, (much like Gaskell Towers then, but I jest).
It starts with a death…
One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on first street corner, she was knocked down by a car.
Books change people’s destinies. Some have read The Tiger of Malaysia and become professors of literature in remote universities. Demian converted tens of thousands of young men to Eastern philosophy. Hemingway made sportsmen of them, Alexandre Dumas complicated the lives of thousands of women, quite a few of whom were saved from suicide by cookery books. Bluma was their victim.
The unnamed narrator is a colleague of Bluma’s in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Cambridge. When a package arrives from Uruguay for Bluma, containing a book which has a dedication handwritten by her to a ‘Carlos’ in the front, he decides to return it to ‘Carlos’, and sets out to find its reclusive owner. The journey will take him from Cambridge to his home city of Buenos Aires and on to Montevideo.
In between his travels he philosophises about books and their owners, and there are many truths in there, including:
“It is often harder to get rid of books than it is to acquire them.”
“There is a moment, however, when we have accumulated so many books that they cross an invisible line, and what was once a sense of pride becomes a burden, because from now on space will always be a problem.”
Although set in the world of academia, and featuring some books I’ve never heard of, this story is not totally dry. There is humour, but there is a dark side to the final events that recall the moral consequences present in all such fables. An odd, but strangely entrancing little book. (7/10)
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The Paper House by Carlos Maria Dominguez. Pub 2005 by Harvill Secker. Illus hardback, 103 pages.