“The Paperchase” by Marcel Theroux

Damien March, a bored BBC journalist on the night shift, suddenly inherits a house on an island off the coast of Cape Cod from his long-lost uncle Patrick. There is a condition, however – he must preserve the house exactly as it is. Given that his uncle was somewhat eccentric, and the house is littered with bric-a-brac (e.g. a collection of ice-cream scoops), this is not as easy as it sounds.

In trying to settle into the house, Damien comes across letters and old manuscripts that reveal more about his uncle than he perhaps wanted to know. One of the stories is about Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s little-known brother, carrying out a vigilante-style murder of a man who is abusing his deaf wife and children. When he meets a deaf woman on the island whose abusive husband died in mysterious circumstances, he begins to wonder if the story is more than just fiction.

I enjoyed the exploration of Patrick’s stories and what they revealed about his life, whether literally or in the subtext: “As I surrendered to the story, I had the odd feeling that I was entering my uncle’s dream life.” I also liked that the unexpected conclusion was hinted at through Patrick’s fiction, some of which is reproduced in the middle of the book. “Paperchase” is an appropriate title, because Damien does come to know his uncle, and in the process to understand more about his family and himself, almost entirely through the paper that Patrick has left behind. Patrick had cut himself off from the family and the rest of the world for many years, so the stories were all that was left.

This was a quick read, and a surprisingly rewarding one. I say “surprisingly” because in the early parts of the book I was not really impressed – I didn’t care about the characters, and the writing was not lively enough to sustain my interest. But it grew on me as the action shifted to the island and the story of Mycroft Holmes, and the ending was handled really well. So by the end, I had a really positive view of the book. It didn’t sear itself into my memory as great books do, but it was certainly a worthwhile and ultimately thought-provoking read.

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