(urth) The Sorcerer's House

Russell Wodell wrustle at gmail.com
Mon Mar 15 14:59:36 PDT 2010

In F.W. Murnau's silent classic film *Nosferatu*, there is a famous sequence
in which the vampire loads a coach with coffins; this is under-cranked
(i.e., filmed in fast motion), to suggest supernatural strength and agility,
but to modern viewers (or this one, at least) speeded-up motion seems
inevitably comic.

I mention this to convey the difficulty I find with Wolfe's latest novel. As
in *Castleview* and parts of *Free Live Free*, there is such a plethora of
weird incidents, conveyed at really breakneck speed by a typically laconic
and unemotional Wolfe narrator, that I find the necessary suspension of
disbelief very difficult. Not to spoil anything for those who haven't got
their hands on this yet, I'll give only one minor example: in the middle of
one tense encounter, the narrator receives an emergency telephone call from
his butler's little dog.

Wolfe is very much smarter than I am, so he must anticipate something of
this reaction. The story seems to demand being read straight; yet there are,
for another example, no less than three sets of identical twins at large,
plus an evil dwarf bent on rape (who is explicitly identified with a Dickens
character I will not name here).

Does he want us to laugh? I add that Wolfe's few explicit attempts at
humour, such as his Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe parodies, have always
struck me as leaden failures.

The jacket copy instructs readers who finish the novel to immediately read
it again. I'll try, but right now I'm off to Tim Burton's *Alice in

Russell Wodell
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