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The Dumb House

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,213 ratings  ·  424 reviews
In Persian myth, it is said that Akbar the Great once built a palace which he filled with newborn children, attended only by mutes, in order to learn whether language is innate or acquired. As the year passed and the children grew into their silent and difficult world, this palace became known as the Gang Mahal, or Dumb House. In his first novel, John Burnside explores the ...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published June 4th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,213 ratings  ·  424 reviews

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Jen Campbell
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Holy shit. Holy shit. That is my eloquent, professional opinion. Hands down my favourite read of 2015 so far, and it's going to take a damn amazing book to beat it. Imagine Perfume, Poor Things & Lolita had a book baby. This is it, and it's bloody terrifying and brilliant. ...more
Felice Laverne
"...the very act of breaking the skin, of entering another human body, intrigued and excited me. I could see why people might kill for that sensation...Such people would be the victims of an exquisite curiosity..."

To accurately assess this novel, I would first have to say that I have honestly never before encountered such an exquisitely void soul in fiction before. It was almost like staring into nothingness, a sensation that was both eerie and intriguing.

John Burnside’s The Dumb House is a dist
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, scotland
I loved this book! It had me hooked.
It was sick and twisted.
Creepy and impactful. Lots of deranged and disturbed thoughts.
Not knowing the protagonist's name until the end made it more sinister.
Towards the ending I was genuienly really scared. It made me so uneasy.
One of the scariest books I have ever read.
I really liked the book not having chapters and just having 3 main parts
Holly Dunn
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After my forays into fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction, it seemed about time to return to my go-to categorisation, literary fiction. The Dumb House is a book that has recently been re-released by Vintage in a collection of Scottish classics. It’s a book that was first published in 1997, but it has recently been getting a lot of attention on the Internet, thanks to Jen Campbell’s mention of it on her YouTube channel. It has even resulted in a new term and subsequent Twitter hashtag: #Burnsid ...more
Paul Bryant
Jul 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
I was surfing around for other people’s reviews of this short mad novel in order to steal their ideas when I came across the book reviewing girls and boys on Youtube, to whom I have heretofore paid little attention. And I do confess to being slightly fascinated – how these people can just switch on a camera and rabbit extemporaneously for 4 or 5 minutes about a book and then pick up another and do the same, all with a breathless perkiness and absolute lashings of Bright Red Lipstick, I can’t ima ...more
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars.

After futher consideration, I have raised my review of The Dumb House from 4 to 4.5 stars because... well it was very very good. I had previously never heard of John Burnside, but then I saw Jen Campbell gush about it on her channel, and I had to immediately pick it up and read it as soon as possible.

This novel follows the narrator, Luke, who as a child was told the story of 'The Dumb House' by his mother. In this story, Akbar the Great filled a palace with newborn children, attended t
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a character study of an extremely disturbed person
Flinchingly horrifying. This is not really a novel about an experiment gone wrong while on the search for the essence of life, but of a person (possibly a sociopath) with an Oedipus complex who can't separate power from death from childhood from sex from decay from love. The Norman Bates-ish main character is a narcissist and being in his head is so incredibly disturbing--not only because he does some abhorrent things, but because it's easy to be fused to him, to almost become him, while reading ...more
Timothy Urges
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The narrator of The Dumb House seeks the source of the soul. Mommy issues and paranoia plague our unreliable protagonist, but he will achieve his goal.

The greatest scientific discoveries in history were conducted by individuals willing to do the unthinkable in pursuit of knowledge. The Dumb House features one such individual.

Zuky the BookBum
This book was nothing like what I thought it would, and for that reason, it disappointed me.

I believed this novel was going to be a creepy, man-holds-children-captive kind of story, but unfortunately it wasn’t. This was far more intelligent, with lots of complex writing than I had expected, and due to that, I couldn’t really get into it. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed so I feel like a lot of this book went over my head.

There’s no doubt about it, our narrator is one of the most terrifying
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

I could not pass up reading this book, considering how much hype it has been getting in my corner of the bookternet. I have to say that I am not disappointed. Burnside delivers a profoundly disturbing book featuring an extremely disturbed narrator. The narrator of The Dumb House talks to you like a friend, a confidant, in his journey to discover the nature of the human soul. We follow him through years of "experiments" to learn about the soul, particularly focusing on the development of
Aug 27, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brittany (UnderTheRadarBooks)
Disturbing, compelling and completely brilliant. Now excuse me while I go buy everything John Burnside has ever written.
Really good. I liked it a lot! Wish some description of the mother and her relationship with the father was given because I'm a bit lost on that. I didn't quite get what was going on.
Feb 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
phew am I glad this is over.

This was the shortest book I read this month but it still took me the longest to read... because. it. is. so. dull. Maybe it's just me, but the point of this book went completely over my head. I thought this was going to be a book about a guy recreating the dumb house experiment, and while that is definitely part of it, most of the time it's just about this dude going about his way. Oh and also he's a psychopath so he does a bunch of morally wrong stuff. Wow.

I don't k
Alice Lippart
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An utterly fascinating character study of a very disturbed man. Wonderfully written and enticing.
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I began The Dumb House, it reminded me somewhat of John Fowles' The Collector and Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory. Regardless, it was so much creepier. Chilling from the very start, The Dumb House is as compelling as it is bloodcurdlingly disturbing. Horribly fantastic, and creepily believable is the narrator, Luke, whose ideas are undoubtedly sickening but related to paper so well by Burnside. Tautly written, and powerful. A memorable and fantastic book - one which I loved due to its scope an ...more
James Chatham
This book was uncomfortable and disturbing in all of the right ways. It's beautifully written and, despite the sociopathic nature of the narrator, the book is written in a way that makes you almost feel for him. Grief and its effects on the psyche seems to be a constant theme, and it was handled emotionally and effectively. The whole premise of the narrator's experiment isn't really in motion until the final third of the book, but the buildup was worth it and the climax was tense. It's an incred ...more
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Closer to a 3.5

From its synopsis and the reviews I'd seen, this book sounded like it was going to be a solid Five Star Read for me. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy it and there are some disturbing scenes, it was a little too slow for me. My favourite thing about this book was definitely its linguistic subject matter - some of the questions raised were just mind-bendingly fascinating and it really made me want to dig out my old uni textbooks!

Video review:
Well gee....that was one twisted little mind-fuck! Holy moly!

This was an unsettling book to read. It is beautifully written and quite poetic, but at the same time, it is utterly, unforgivingly brutal and stark. Burnside doesn't hold back, so prepare yourself if you are easily sickened!

I liked it how Burnside drew us into Luke's world. We are made to feel quite intimiate with Luke and his life and 'studies' - he tells us everything he wants to do with his experiments. But, at the same time, Burns
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017

holy crap that was so fucked up.

But I LOVED it.

Okay, so, I'm not totally sure why but this book really reminded me of "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang - or, maybe not the book, but the FEELING I got from reading it. It's sort of beautiful, analytical, and entirely fucked up, and I found myself enjoying it immensely.

This book follows a man (Luke? I think? We only got his name once or twice) who is a bit obsessed with language. He believes that, without language the body does not have a soul
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Wow. 4.5 stars. This is the most disturbing book I've ever read, and not because of its subject matter or any specific scenes - it's the execution that makes it haunting. Burnside has an uncanny ability to walk the thinnest of lines time and again - never straying from gruesome to grotesque, from rapturous to indulgent, from philosophical to pretentious. Absolutely superb writing that'll stay with me for a long time.
Dec 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was odd. It was definitely interesting, and very disturbing, but I found myself disappointed. I wanted more. It had such a unique and messed-up premise and then very little happened.
Karen Mace
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paperbacks

If you like your books to be disturbing, dark and twisted then this is one for you! I normally prefer light and fluffy chick-lit books but got this after seeing/hearing Jen Campbell's review and I now understand why she was raving about it! It's a book I shouldn't have liked and have no understanding why I did enjoy it as the subject matters are horrifying at times but it's written so well that you just get swept along in the
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is hands down the most disturbing, creepy book I have read all year. It's also beautifully written but I definitely have to agree with the synopsis. This book is NOT for the faint of heart. Holy...moly...

Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
googling how to be comfortable again after reading this book
Victoria Harris
How can something be so twisted yet so beautiful? I don't know. Amazing.
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!! This was so good!

Dark, morbid, twisted, and beautiful! I am so glad I read this and now I must ready everything that is similar to this that I can get my hands on. Lolita by Nabokov is next!

If you have read this and have any suggestions, please send them my way.
Emily Cait
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like I would have enjoyed this more if it hadn't been so hyped up. It is a disturbing story. It is beautifully written. But over hyped by the internet. I was expecting too much from it.
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommended to Stela by: Ema
The idea of the novel is very interesting with its theme about the power of language but I felt something was missing - as if the author could not decide how to develop it - in a philosophical and/ or psychological way or in a sensational, Gothic one. The hybrid that results is not quite a psychological thriller nor a horror story but something in between. The portrait of Mother, for example, who influenced so much the narrator, is blurred and unconvincing for his behaviour.

However, there are p
Aj Sterkel
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
Well, that was severely messed up. It’ll be a long time before I can get this book out of my head.

I saw The Dumb House on a list of classic horror novels. It was first published in 1997, but I guess the book gods have already decided that it’s a classic. (Who decides which books are classics? I must Google that.)

Anyway, I was familiar with the story of Akbar the Great and his palace of silent children, so I was curious to see what John Burnside would do with that tale in The Dumb House.

The narr
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John Burnside is the author of nine collections of poetry and five works of fiction. Burnside has achieved wide critical acclaim, winning the Whitbread Poetry Award in 2000 for The Asylum Dance which was also shortlisted for the Forward and T. S. Eliot prizes. Born in Scotland, he moved away in 1965, returning to settle there in 1995. In the intervening period he worked as a factory hand, a labour ...more

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“No one could say it was my choice to kill the twins, any more than it was my decision to bring them into the world.” 8 likes
“The trick and the beauty of language is that it seems to order the whole universe, misleading us into believing that we live in sight of a rational space, a possible harmony.” 8 likes
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