THE BLACK HOUSE by Paul Theroux
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Paul Theroux is such a consistently accomplished and varied writer one doesn't know what to expect next, over and above the cultural inflections and human insights which inform the mind and heart of all his books. This one has none of the riffraffish charms of his Singapore ponce Saint Jack -- a sadness prevails, along with uncertainty crowding fear -- all proceeding from a sense of isolation. Alfred Munday, an obstinate, admittedly old fashioned, anthropologist returns from years spent in a little village in Uganda. He's brought back by a bad heart to retire to Dorset with his dowdy wife Emma whom he has always needed -- not only to physically support him and his work but silently prop up his beliefs. Now at Bowood House called the Black House by the locals he is quickly aware of its ""power points."" Even if it only seems fusty and chilly, it appears to him in his dreams without doors and windows. Before very long (particularly after a talk he gives to the inattentive villagers) he realizes he has just exchanged one form of exclusion for another -- the same inhospitality -- worse the same tribalism (vide the local fox hunt). And then there's that other presence in the Black House which Emma acknowledges before he does -- the presence which is reified in the form of the sexually consuming Caroline who directs both of them. . . . Theroux's Black House is tenanted with all the confusing similarities and conjunctions which reflect different societies -- civilization becomes only a matter of place and perspective -- and essentially it is just a stone's throw from the self -- anxious, vulnerable, exposed. Do not underestimate the ""power points"" -- this is a shadowed fascinator which takes place on several levels of meaning and personal recognition. Assisted by the fact that Theroux, line for literate line, outwrites most of his contemporaries.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1974
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin