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on 3 September 2010
Baxter Dunn, a scholarly man with a chequered past, is penniless and just out of prison. In search of a place to stay, he happens on an untenanted and slightly dilapidated old house in the town of Medicine Man, and, rather than just breaking into it and squatting, he decides to offer to repair and look after it in exchange for being allowed to live there rent-free. But when he tracks down the managing agents, he's in for a surprise: the house is his, and has only been waiting for him to come along and claim it.

Told in a series of letters (mostly to Baxter's identical twin brother, who has good reason to hate him), Dunn's story becomes increasingly fantastic, as he delves into the mystery of the Mr Black who once owned the locally-infamous "Sorcerer's House", and as he explores the labyrinthine house itself (which "grows when people live in it, and shrinks when they don't"), meets the good/bad twins Emlyn and Ieuan who seem to belong to another century, acquires a butler (or two), and a footman (who is also a dog), as well as a pet/lover in the form of a facefox -- a creature that is the reverse of a werefox, being a fox that can take human form, rather than the other way round. There is also a vampire and several werewolves. The house's windows, sometimes, overlook a vast forest with a distant, gleaming tower. It's one of those house-on-the-borderland "vasty houses" one finds so often in the literature of the fantastic -- not to mention dreams.

Wolfe has a reputation for being a writer whose stories have hidden depths, which often require a second reading to get the most from them, but this could just be down to the fact that he likes playing with significances. There are, for instance, three sets of identical twins in The Sorcerer's House, a fact which may lead you puzzling your way down all sorts of paths of thought, involving fairy-tale trios and gothic doubles (and there are plenty of examples of both throughout this short novel), but on the other hand, this could just be an expression of the comedic (in the old-fashioned sense of a story that ties itself up with a happy ending) magic of his storytelling. Wolfe's world in The Sorcerer's House is infused with the supernaturalism of story and magic. Open yourself to it, accept the significances as a sort of poetry of the fantastic, and the novel doesn't need a second reading, its magic is laid bare. I could be wrong, and a second reading might well reveal hidden depths, but certainly, the first reading felt satisfying enough to me. Open the fairy-tale box of storytelling tricks (of threes, and twins, and orphans, and sorcerers) and the depths come ready-supplied.

Wolfe's one main weakness, for me, is his rather mannered dialogue. On the one hand it seems to accurately echo the messy disjointedness of real conversations, on the other it sometimes seems totally unreal, and just a way of spinning out the air of mystery. People keep saying "I understand" in response to simple statements which require no understanding; they remind each other of points the reader has well in mind. But The Sorcerer's House suffers a lot less from this than did An Evil Guest, a book which disappointed me with its rather unfulfilled promise of Wolfe-meets-Lovecraft. The Sorcerer's House is, I'd say, a far more satisfying book, and certainly short enough for a second read, if you're tempted to test those hidden depths.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 November 2013
This is a classic Gene Wolfe novel and has all the elements that he has returned to, on many occasions. The classic unreliable narrator, fantastical creatures and a feeling of being "out of time" or from another, earlier age.

This would be quite a scary story and there are points where it ventures into deeply unsettling psychological horror territory. But we are separated from this by the narrative device of this being presented as a series of letters, written mostly by the main character - Bax/ Baxter. His profound unconcern for whatever happens - his phlegmatic nature, you might say - mean that we can't at first be scared. But there are times when the story runs away with him into the immediate present and this doesn't feel like a letter at all and we are there with the characters.

While it's clear that Bax is unreliable and he tells us so, all the time; there is also a feeling that Gene Wolfe is not telling us the truth and that he is just cloaking this story in artifice. He knows more than he is letting us in on - just hinting at the world that lies on the other side of the house and draws Bax in.

This book does have werewolves, vampires and magicians - but it is unlike any other work of "genre" fiction that deals with this kind of thing. Wolfe is literary, old-fashioned and considered. He is more interested in the art of writing than anything else and how all of this is just words on a page - who knows what actually happened? We only get clues of what the writers want to tell us and it's often the minutiae which concern them and not the weird situation(s) in which they find themselves.

This does have some gruesome parts and the fantasy elements are quite vague - but in some ways this could be seen as an allegory for the way that sets of twins relate to each other - competing and playing psychological games with each other. In fact this part is more satisfying - but you just have to read this to find out how this is realised and resolved. I don't want to give away the plots twists that make this an enjoyable addition to Wolfe's novels - if not his best, certainly an enjoyable romp and a good read.
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on 20 December 2010
The Sorcerer's House is an entertaining and fun story about a house that is situated both in our world and in another world full of magic and terrifying beings. The main character, Bax, is an academic just released from prison. For mysterious reasons he very soon finds himself to be the unexpected owner of the Black House, a building known by the locals to be haunted. The whole novel consists of letters from Bax, most of them addressed to his hostile twin brother George, and also some letters written from other people to Bax.

Gene Wolfe is my favorite author, and he is widely appreciated for his high literary standards. In my opinion, this is a very good book, but still not one of Wolfe's best ones. I get the impression that it is written in a kind of laidback style, something the author enjoyed writing but did not put too much effort into. It is an easy read with a lot more dialog than in most of Wolfe's books, and perhaps for that reason I feel that is not going to last so long in my memory as some other of his books. But in spite of that, don't miss it!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 October 2013
This is a classic Gene Wolfe novel and has all the elements that he has returned to, on many occasions. The classic unreliable narrator, fantastical creatures and a feeling of being "out of time" or from another, earlier age.

This would be quite a scary story and there are points where it ventures into deeply unsettling psychological horror territory. But we are separated from this by the narrative device of this being presented as a series of letters, written mostly by the main character - Bax/ Baxter. His profound unconcern for whatever happens - his phlegmatic nature, you might say - mean that we can't at first be scared. But there are times when the story runs away with him into the immediate present and this doesn't feel like a letter at all and we are there with the characters.

While it's clear that Bax is unreliable and he tells us so, all the time; there is also a feeling that Gene Wolfe is not telling us the truth and that he is just cloaking this story in artifice. He knows more than he is letting us in on - just hinting at the world that lies on the other side of the house and draws Bax in.

This book does have werewolves, vampires and magicians - but it is unlike any other work of "genre" fiction that deals with this kind of thing. Wolfe is literary, old-fashioned and considered. He is more interested in the art of writing than anything else and how all of this is just words on a page - who knows what actually happened? We only get clues of what the writers want to tell us and it's often the minutiae which concern them and not the weird situation(s) in which they find themselves.

This does have some gruesome parts and the fantasy elements are quite vague - but in some ways this could be seen as an allegory for the way that sets of twins relate to each other - competing and playing psychological games with each other. In fact this part is more satisfying - but you just have to read this to find out how this is realised and resolved. I don't want to give away the plots twists that make this an enjoyable addition to Wolfe's novels - if not his best, certainly an enjoyable romp and a good read.
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on 5 April 2015
3.5 stars. My "1st" read Gene Wolfe novel. An enjoyable read but didn't live up to my expectations unfortunately. Still, that is not to say it isn't worth reading and it certainly has some great scenes and characters. I would of preffered more information about the land of Faerie and its occupants, creatures, customs etc etc. Still, the novel has a decent enough plot and momentum along with some some good writing that keep the pages turning. I have a few more Wolfe novels in my collection to get through including, 'An Evil Guest' which I hope will be a little more darker in tone to suit my tastes.
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on 29 May 2013
No one tells it like Gene, and this novel is no exception. I have liked all his work since I discovered the shadow of the torturer 30 years ago so maybe I'm biased, but I really enjoyed this
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on 18 August 2014
It's Gene Wolfe. No more need be said.
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