House of Leaves is an experimental novel that plays with the reader psychologically creating a masterpiece of slow-burn horror. It is one of my favorite books. It is perhaps unfair to compare The Library at Mount Char to House of Leaves but I think if you’ve read both books you’ll have some idea of why I’m drawing a comparison between the two. But while House of Leaves kept me up all night pondering the great ‘what-ifs’ of having a closet Minotaur Mount Char was a page-turner that just left me asking “the fuck did I just read?”
The fuck indeed.
Let’s talk about the author, Scott Hawkins. Hawkins is a prolific writer who has published 7 books. And with the exception of The Library at Mount Char they are all computer manuals. Isn’t there some stereotype that the super technical among us can’t write decent fiction? Not Hawkins. No matter what I end up saying about this book the technical (haaa) aspect of the writing is impeccable. It’s tight, it’s well-plotted. In some ways it feels like it’s trying to be “experimental” the way House of Leaves was, but it still follows a much more linear, standardized format (not a negative, just a comment). The plot is certainly imaginative and unique, something really unexpected even though it draws for a lot of established tropes and themes. It’s a book about a library- it would be wrong if it weren’t alluding to a lot of things!
So what’s my problem?
Well one thing I feel confident in saying is that this book has an audience out there that will appreciate it for the whole picture it presents. I am not sure that I am that audience. This is a fantastical horror novel with a lot of blood and a lot of death. Things that are shocking are incorporated well into the mythos of Mount Char (so it doesn’t feel as though they are happening just for shock value), but if you are squeamish stay away. Honestly I can think of more people for whom this book is “not” for than “is” for. I guess I would say it has a niche audience.
Let me try explaining the plot: In 1977 Carolyn and her “siblings” are adopted by “Father,” a god-like figure with immense powers over time and space who acts as teacher as he molds the children into “librarians.” Each librarian is given a specific “catalogue.” Carolyn studies all the languages, Margaret studies the dead, David learns war, and Michael animal husbandry. Then Father disappears and the now-grown children are forced out of their library and into main stream America, which they are incapable of living in anymore, while they try to figure out what happened. As they quest for answer they bring in reluctant accomplice Steven, war vet Erwin, and a couple of lions. Chaos ensues and no one is exactly who you think they are (except maybe the lions). Hawkins has created a very complex version of modern earth and does a skillful job of tying everything together.
At one point the whole book takes a sharp turn towards “Cthulhu fanfiction” and then drops it. There are other little things that feel kind of like plot holes. Perhaps it’s because Hawkins is toying with (but not committed to) the idea of writing more books set in the Mount Char world. At a certain point I felt more confused with the text then just baffled by my feelings (and the quick pace!).
I have to assign this book a certain number of stars when I upload it to Blogging for Books and I am honestly not sure how many stars I want to give it. On technical merit alone it deserves more than one star- and I certainly didn’t hate the book the way I did Ballad of a Small Player. But I also didn’t 5-star love it. 3.5? 4?
I will sum it up as this: I cannot think of a single other book like The Library at Mount Char and so if you’re interested in the weird and wholly different, this is where you want to turn.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.