A struggling British antiquarian with gambling debts… an American socialite during the Prohibition… a young boy from Spain during Franco’s reign… a barfly and a stripper in the late seventies… an autistic teenager… In different places and during different eras, seemingly unconnected strangers all come into contact with a mysterious box, and all of them at some point suddenly find themselves transported to a different place: a huge house that seems to have endless corridors and stairs, not to mention a room filled with a huge jungle, one that contains an ocean, and so on…
The World House by Guy Adams starts off well, describing the unsuccessful antiquarian Miles as he hopelessly tries to get an extension on his gambling debts. When the perspective switches to a different time and era with the Prohibition-era debutante Penelope, I was still with the author. I even stayed interested when the story switched yet again to Kesara, a Spanish girl trying to stay alive on the streets, but it’s at this point that the frequent perspective shifts and seemingly unconnected narratives began to grate a bit. Fortunately, around that time, there’s a mysterious and fascinating interlude that doesn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the story (yet), and then Guy Adams introduces Tom, a bar singer who looks to have been modelled on Tom Waits (notice the bar is situated on “Ninth and Hennepin”…), which was enough to keep me reading a while longer again. However, after this, two more seemingly unrelated characters enter the novel: an autistic girl, and a professor who is obsessed with finding a certain mysterious box…
Once every character has finally been introduced to the story, The World House continues as a series of mostly unconnected narratives, with everyone trying to survive the surreal environment of the house. These adventures are entertaining enough to read, but unfortunately The World House takes too long to get to the point and bring everything together. There are some clues and links here and there, and a few characters meet up, but mostly you still appear to be reading a series of seemingly unconnected stories about people who are all trying to survive separate parts of the same bizarre environment.
If you’ve read the OTHERLAND novels by Tad Williams, you may remember the big chunk of River of Blue Fire where it seemed like a new, weird virtual reality was introduced every other chapter. These were all well-described, original, trippy and fun to read, but they didn’t advance the overall plot much, making that book the weakest installment of the series. Most of The World House by Guy Adams has that same feeling: while it’s surreal and action-packed, it feels like there’s just no point to much of it.
When everything finally starts to come together towards the end of the novel, The World House suddenly gets quite interesting. The final revelation of what’s really going on is actually nothing short of great. Unfortunately, before you get to that point, Guy Adams spends about a quarter of The World House setting up the various characters, and most of the rest of the book putting them through their paces in the house, leaving too little time to wrap things up. Even though the separate story-lines are well-written and never boring, and it eventually turns out that, yes, everything did have a point and a connection, what comes before that point may be so frustrating for some readers that they don’t even make it to the eventual pay-off.
Still, if the plot summary of this novel strikes your interest and you don’t mind taking not one but several long and winding roads to reach a satisfying conclusion, you may want to check out The World House.