Review: In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

Matt Bell’s first book is a grisly fairy tale that explores what it means to be a man, husband, and son. It is about as strange and unfamiliar a book as I’ve ever read – a dark fairy tale that has blood and guts through every page, challenging the reader at almost every step.

A newly wed couple move to a wild land filled with talking bears, mythical squids, underground labyrinths and new stars and moons that can be conjured into being by singing them into life. As the couple struggle to start a family, the man (the characters are unnamed, but I suppose they’re supposed to be  Adam and Eve) descends into a kind of madness from which his wife runs away.

It’s written a weird style a bit biblical, a bit epic, and a bit fairy tale all in one. Which makes part of it pure poetry, but also makes the whole thing tougher to read. Like this bit:

“What world we found was not enough for her, not enough for me, not without the children we desired, that I desired and that she desired for me.”

How about just writing, “We weren’t happy, because we didn’t have kids”? All 300 pages are like this, and its too much in the end. Not least, because the themes that Matt Bell explores just don’t need 300 pages – it’s a fairy tale, it could be finished  in 20 and still pack the same punch.


The weird biblical/epic/fairy tale style also means that it plods along at the same old pace, barely changing speed from the off. I took to reading parts of it aloud in the end (I figured that since it is a kind of epic, the rhythm and cadence would make it better spoken, like the Odyssey or the Iliad. It was).

It is a challenging, and sometimes gratifying read, but was it worth it in the end? Probably not. For me anyway.


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