I should probably re-read this book. In fact, from what I understand I should probably read and then re-read a good deal of Gene Wolfe‘s work. There’s a lot of it that I haven’t bothered to pick up at all, but the attention he pays to the construction of his novels is something from which I stand to learn a great deal. It’s no surprise, then, that The Sorcerer’s House is a slowly unfolding marvel of consistent inconsistency, even on my first read-through. And what the devil do I mean by that?
I’ll start with the narrator. We are treated to the sometimes pleasing, sometimes grating prose of one Baxter “Bax” Dunn, as the entire story is told through the lens of his letters (with the addition of a few letters that were sent to him). It is an epistolary, and as such we are entirely at the mercy of Bax’s representation of events as he begins to deal with moving into (squatting in, really) what appears to be a supernaturally expanding house. But one of the few things that we know of Bax is that he was recently released from prison after being convicted for fraud. There are other confounding factors at play as well, hinted at but generally sidelined as being of little relative importance, but I’ll leave those for you to discover when you read the book. Suffice to say that the narrator is tremendously unreliable, to the extent that I’m not sure how much of the book actually happened (I’m certainly unsure how much happened as he represented it, and I think I’ve caught at least one lie). As if that wasn’t enough, he often walks forward or back through the course of events until you’re working hard just to keep the timeline straight in your head.
On a similar note, I’m impressed by how palatable Wolfe manages to make a character I so grew to dislike. Dislike might be the wrong word for it; there were so many things about Bax which I found so unlikeable or frustrating, but he exuded such amiable bonhomie that I found it difficult to hate him for very long, as he’s perhaps the very definition of sleazy but charming. I can only imagine it was second nature to him. The fact that I’m able to tell you all of this about Bax is part of what I so admire about Gene Wolfe.
There’s a great deal more to say about this, but as per usual I’m going to segregate the spoilers. So for my pre-final closing thoughts, or whatever you call this bit, I just want to say that this is a fascinating read even if you don’t end up liking Bax very much. And if you can deal with the several-decades-old gender relations.