House of Holes – Nicholson Baker
After I wrote about Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, I ended up having various discussions, both publicly and privately, about its bizarre nature and just where it left our own views over what is and is not erotic. House of Holes is another one of those books which has generated a lot of discussion.
I first encountered Nicholson Baker’s work quite by chance a couple of years ago, when I was having real problems reading the erotic classic, The Way of a Man with a Maid, and actively resisting its themes (for anyone who knows it, I still haven’t finished it – maybe I should challenge myself to, so I can discuss it on here). Anyway, I wanted something very different to read. Well, I found it!
If you want reality, then forget it. House of Holes centres round a dreamscape brothel, where people have their wildest fantasies fulfilled in exchange for huge payments. People enter the House of Holes by really weird means, a bit like falling down a range of very strange rabbit holes; I saw a review on Amazon which described it as cross between hardcore porn and Alice in Wonderland, and that sums it up for me. I think my favourite means of arrival is through the hole in the end of a penis, but entry via washing machine is fun, too.
There’s an awful lot of fantasy being indulged in here in this brothel, but it’s not all about pure pleasure, either. There are punishments, which are just as crazy. Various sexy body parts are removed and placed on other people, for instance, and even heads are removed. But punishments are not even really that; nothing is permanent: sex organs return, and the body continues to function without its head before being returned to wholeness.
I confess to having a particular, favourite part: drip fed through the book is a story of a dismembered arm, which appears at the start and seduces a young woman. She falls for the arm – both its sexual abilities and its owner’s personality which she manages to access through the appendage – and a very cute little love story develops around it. At least, I think it’s cute. Maybe I’m just a romantic at heart, or maybe I’m as mad as the book… But I like the idea of a bond developing despite the missing parts – sight, voice and a full body for him, and an almost complete lack of knowledge of his physical being for her. Whether the arm finds its body, or whether the woman ever gets to experience more than just the arm of its owner (with or without the arm intact), I shall leave you to discover for yourself!
I utterly adore House of Holes. It stands out for me as being all manner of all things: highly erotic – in a bizarre kind of way – while being very funny, completely ludicrous, and touching on almost as many sexual fantasies and adventures as there are pages in the book. Yet, even through all its crazy narrative, it still manages to raise subtle questions about the erotic and emotions, about consent, and about psychology of the erotic. It’s also the best satire on porn I’ve come across.
Nicholson Baker stated in interviews that he enjoyed writing it, and, to be quite honest, that’s not at all hard to figure out. There’s an energy to the writing that sweeps you up as a reader – if you really ‘get’ it. I have no doubt that I will return to Nicholson Baker with posts on The Fermata and Vox (which I read on the train – what is it about me and erotica on trains? I keep mentioning that). But House of Holes is really something else, believe me! If you’ve never come across it, I would urge you to read it, if not now, then some day.