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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The House of Paper
(The Paper House)

by
Carlos María Domínguez


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The House of Paper



Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 103 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The House of Paper - US
La casa de papel - US
The Paper House - UK
The Paper House - Canada
La Maison en papier - France
Das Papierhaus - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: La casa de papel
  • US title: The House of Paper
  • UK title: The Paper House
  • Translated by Nick Caistor
  • With illustrations by Peter Sís

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable little bibliophile-nightmare

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 4/12/2005 Alexander McCall Smith
The Telegraph . 22/1/2006 Miranda France


  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) wonderfully amusing account of how books can dominate the life of the inveterate collector. It is itself a small book, beautifully translated by Nick Caistor and charmingly illustrated by Peter Sís, and you may buy it without worrying about finding room for it on your shelves. (…) The delight in The House of Paper is not so much in the story of the search but in the poetic style of its telling and in Domínguez's whimsical asides on reading and bibliophilia. (…) The House of Paper is one of those little books that can haunt a reader long after it is closed -- or used as a brick to make a house. It comes from a territory of the imagination that is distant and dreamlike." - Alexander McCall Smith, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is an appealing cautionary tale about the dangers of owning too many books." - Miranda France, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The House of Paper (UK title: The Paper House; don't even get us started ...) is a short novella about being obsessed by books. It is narrated by an Argentine professor at Cambridge, and begins with the death of one of his colleagues, Bluma Lennon, struck by a car as she is reading a poem by Emily Dickinson. A few months after her death he receives a package addressed to her. The stamps are Uruguayan, but there is no sender's address. The contents are also a bit mystifying: it is a copy of Joseph Conrad's The Shadow Lines, with a dedication from Bluma to a certain Carlos. It's not just the book being returned that is odd, but especially the state of the book, as it has "a filthy crust on its front and back covers", and leaves cement dust .....
       A bookish man himself, worried about his own collection getting out of hand, he can't get the book and these circumstances out of his head. He e-mails around to try to determine who this Carlos might be, and learns that his full name is Carlos Brauer and that he is "a bibliophile from Uruguay".
       On his next trip to South America the narrator tries to find Brauer and return the book to him, but he disappeared a while ago and few people seem to know his fate or whereabouts. Eventually the narrator finds someone who can tell him the whole story. It turns out Brauer was an obsessive reader and book-hoarder, with a fabulous and enormous collection. One of his ambitions was to order his books in a sensible way -- no Dewey decimal system for him ! -- and he set out cataloguing the books in his massive collection according to his own system, taking into account affinities between authors and books in some very elaborate way.
       Though his friends worry that Brauer is getting too consumed by his books, the classification-system seems to fulfil him; naturally, then, disaster strikes, and all the careful order is upset. It leaves his universe shattered, and Brauer in the middle of what is now just chaos. Instead of starting anew he takes radical action, moving to a remote and desolate spot in Uruguay, and while he takes his books with him he puts them to a very different use there. Bluma's request for the return of the book she gave him is then the final crushing blow: what would have once been easy -- looking it up in his well-organised catalogue and then pulling it from his shelves -- is now nearly impossible -- but that doesn't stop Brauer from trying. And, since the book reached England, he obviously also succeeded -- though, as the narrator eventually gets to see first-hand, at a very great cost.
       The House of Paper is an elegant little meditation on the hold books can have on us, and on their importance in our lives. All these characters are bookish, and it comes as little surprise that Bluma, for example, died exactly the way she hoped to. The culling of books is an issue repeatedly raised, from the narrator's own overflowing library to, of course, Brauer who is in a league of his own in being unable to let go of any volume -- but the narrator also notes a time in Argentina when people thought it necessary to dispose of and destroy certain books, when it was dangerous to own certain works. This isn't all worked up in ideal fashion -- Domínguez seems to be trying a bit hard in part to make the story more 'meaningful' -- but the book-enthusiasm as well as the uncovering of Brauer's secret are evocative and clever enough to make for a satisfying quick read.

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Links:

The House of Paper: Reviews: Carlos María Domínguez: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Carlos María Domínguez was born in Argentina in 1955, but now lives in Uruguay.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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