Imagine a cross between a hardcore porno and Alice in Wonderland, then throw in some excellent writing and some of the most imaginative descriptions of a man's penis you're ever going to read and you have Nicholson Baker's latest novel "House of Holes". Baker, if you're new to him, is a fantastically wide ranging writer who has written a novel about the hypothetical assassination of George W Bush, a non-fiction book about library cataloguing, two erotic novels, one of which was made famous by Monica Lewinsky after she handed a copy to Bill Clinton (the rest is history), a stream of consciousness non-fiction fan note to John Updike, and a history book highlighting the Allied leaders support of Hitler in the run up to WW2. In short, this writer's output is surprising to say the least.
The novel centres around an otherworldy luxury brothel called House of Holes which is located in some dreamscape where the visitors pay extortionate sums of money to have their wildest dreams fulfilled. How they get there is a variety of ways - through a straw in a drink, a washing machine, via the hole in the end of a penis, through someone's fingers when they make an "O" shape. Couple this with scenes such as the opening chapter where a disembodied arm seduces a young woman followed by a woman in a singles bar who lays a silver egg and you realise this is a novel where you don't know what's going to happen next.
Other examples are the ways in which customers are punished. Heads are taken off of bodies and then reattached later, meanwhile the headless bodies wander about as normal. Arms and legs are taken off, while genitalia is removed and replaced with the opposite sex's, and so on. All very trippy, I know.
Here's a sample paragraph to give you an idea of the kind of inspired writing you get throughout the book: "Chuck's thundertube of d*ckmeat started sliding in... then he slammed into her train station again. His c*ck train was commuting in and out of her p*ssyhole, filling and emptying it by turns, and she loved it...then he made... a sound like a monster in a Japanese monster movie, and she felt a flowering of deep warmth inside her, and the sense of hot sperm that surrounded the prow of his still thrusting peckerd*ckc*ck." (p.20)
Baker's said in recent interviews that he had a great time writing the book and it's really obvious to the reader that there is an exuberance in the writing of the strangest and most challenging scenes that really springs off the page at you. Dialogue like "Do you want this ham steak of a Dr D*ck that's so stuffed with sp*nk that I'm ready to blow this swollen sackload all over you?" "Yes Mr F*ckwizard, we want that fully sp*nkloaded meatloaf of a ham steak of a d*ck" (p.23)
I really laughed at several moments in this book. As bizarre as the book got, and if you're a plot driven reader then you'll be better off not picking this up as it's really a series of bizarre scenes merged with tons of sex rather than a story, I stuck with it just for the language. Some highlights include the various names given to penises - "hot w*nky stick" (p.27), "hunky sp*nk pipes" (p.248), "rogue jacquard" (p.206) and best of all "Dave angled out his Malcolm Gladwell" (p.184).
There are a number of characters in the book who go through strange adventures and scenarios, I won't go into them here as you'll want to discover them for yourselves, but I will say that apart from the Madam of the house, Lila, none of them were ever really memorably written. It's the situations they find themselves in that stick with you rather than the people involved. Similarly, because there is no plot, the book does become a bit tiresome by the end. I did finish and enjoyed it while it lasted but in the end I'm not sure I could have read it if it were longer than 262 pages.
If you've got a good sense of humour and are feeling adventurous, spend some time with this, possibly the most inventive novel of 2011. Read it for the language which is as spicy as the things the characters in the book get up to. You know every year in the UK they have a bad sex award for books? It's for sex scenes written embarrassingly in a work of fiction. I love that Baker saw that and "just a scene? Why not an entire book?" and that he went ahead and wrote it. Because while I did get tired of the endless sex and madness by the end, I'm thankful that somebody like Baker wrote it. 3 stars for the book and an extra star for the balls on this guy. God bless you sir, I hope your inspired work is read in the spirit in which it was offered - fun!