Something Like a House Paperback – Jan 5 2001
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Journalist Sid Smith's debut novel is a brave excursion into little-known and alien territory. Armed with stocks of historical, political and medical information, he has somehow made the imaginative leap into a realm few understand: the sealed-off world of China during the Cultural Revolution.
James Stuart Fraser, a private in the British Army, deserts and ends up spending 35 years "among the unshiftable Chinese". Many of those years are spent in the wretched poverty of a village of the despised Miao people, where life revolves around the solitary buffalo. The incredible tedium of Fraser's rural subsistence (existence is too strong a term) is evoked in a taut prose, filled with enthralling and convincing detail.
However, as time passes Fraser grows aware of the pseudo-academic work going on at the clinic, where eugenicists wreak havoc with village life in their search for the scientific "truth" of race. As years suddenly pass in a paragraph, the pace races unannounced to thriller speed and the carefully wrought momentum Smith had achieved is lost. Notwithstanding, Smith has an important story to tell, and at its best, Something Like A House is very good indeed. --Alan Stewart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"...Something Like a House is a moving and inspiring account of a people and a way of life which, against difficult odds, manages somehow to continue." -- John Burnside, The Scotsman - 13.1.01
"...it is an impressively well-researched and sensitively imagined picture of an almost unknown society as it comes up against state politics, told in haunting, piercingly spare prose which never fails to make an impact. Smith's next novel should be eagerly awaited." -- Anthea Lawson, Fiction Shorts, The Times - 10.1.01
"Smith's narrative is beautifully spare and lean without a trace of sententiousness; his unemotional tone contrasts pognantly with the sometimes lurid and horrific events that engulf Fraser and the 'medieval' villagers. Once you start reading this book, ut everything else on hold. Definitely the bee's knees. Buy it." -- Malcolm Reid, Time Out - 24-31.1.01
"Smith's parable is haunting in its simplicity, and arrestingly told." -- Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday - 14.1.01
"Smith's real achievement is to have created a work that is dense with politics, history and science, but which has a ring of absolute truth about it. It reads not so much as a novel about an experience but as one that renders the experience itself - startling, strange, unmediated." -- Melissa Denes, The Daily Telegraph - 13.1.01
"The beauty of the author's approach is the way in which he subverts our sensibilities through stealth, using language to tease wisps of mist across meaning, forcing us to look more carefully, forcing us to consider nuances that may ordinarily have passed us by. The result is a book that simultaneously eats away at your heart whilst challenging our very understanding of what a novel should be. It is an extraordinary debut." -- Charlie Hill, The Birmingham Post - 13.1.01
"The peasant life of routine filth, leaking roofs and bad-tempered water buffalo is beautifully evoked, and as Smith turns from a discussion of soil erosion to the finer points of Confucian thought, you can only admire the breadth of his research." -- Dan Linstead, Sunday Express - 14.1.01
"This is not a book to read if you are in a sensitive frame of mind, but one to savour in more robust moments, both for its writing and its sheer energy." -- Carolyn Hart, Marie Claire - February 2001
"This story of a foreigner's long sojourn in an alien culture, under-scored with a sub-plot involving the development of germ warfare science, is truly extraordinary, and is told with a skill which would be impressive in an experienced novelist, let alone a beginner." -- Graeme Woolaston, The Herald [Glasgow] - 20.1.01
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It's my guess that the awards and acclamation are solely for the apparent insight into Chinese life.