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The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer But underneath Matt felt a hollowness. He understood he was only a photograph of a human, and that meat he wasn’t really important. Photographs could lie forgotten in drawers for years. They could be thrown away. You know that moment just before you’ve entirely woken up, when you’re dreaming, but you’re conscious that you’re dreaming, so you’re hovering somewhere between sleep and wakefulness? Or is that just me? That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience of reading The House of the Scorpion. The world of this book blends the familiar with the strange, the safe with the sinister, in a singularly unsettling and powerful way. It took me some time to reach that conclusion. Throughout large parts of this book, I felt almost disconnected - held at arm’s length by the characters and struggling against the slow pace of the plot. As a reader who generally prefers emotionally immersive books, I found myself at something of a loss as to define how I felt about this one. I still do, to an extent. What was clear, after I finished The House of the Scorpion, was that it was lingering with me. I was still thinking about the characters and the things that had happened to them, but most of all, the extremely disquieting questions this story poses. At the risk of sounding like I just want to get out of writing a synopsis, which is also true, in my opinion the less known about this story before approaching it the better. Farmer chooses to tell her story in a particular manner, peeling back layer upon layer to reveal the frightening realities of what initially appears to be a quite familiar world. This novel takes on complex subjects. Presents difficult scenarios. Gives you a false sense of security then pulls the floor out from under you. Asks you to question the characters, the world, even yourself. Relentlessly demands that you don’t just read this book, but that you be consumed by it’s central paradox. Matteo is El Patron. But are there infinite possible versions of the exact same person? How much of who we are is written into out genetic code and how much is shaped by external things? How does choice factor into the way we develop, and what if those choices are never presented? Am I thinking about this too much?The House of the Scorpion does require you to just roll with it, for want of a better expression, with respect to some elements of the story. But for me, it was this shifting from the firmly realistic to the speculative that gave this book the slightly surreal atmosphere that I came to enjoy. I do think that given the nature of some of the events (and I apologise for being deliberately vague her - actually for the whole vagueness of this review in general), I should have felt closer, more emotionally involved in the story. While I did become entirely engaged in the plot, I can’t say that this was due to a particular sense of connection with the characters. I wanted to feel more invested in them, yet I just… wasn’t. That said, I can’t deny that this is a powerful book. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. But it’s a thought provoking, quietly intense story that well-deserves it’s recognition.