Book Review: Blake Butler's There is no Year / by Neal Auch

A while back I decided to try an experiment with crowd-sourcing my reading list to social media.  I got lots of great suggestions and discovered a bunch of awesome new authors, but I think it's fair to say that Blake Butler's There is No Year has been one of the true highlight of this little experiment. This novel is a truly delightful exercise in weirdness that I probably never would have stumbled across on my own.

I would strongly recommend There is no Year to anybody who enjoyed House of Leaves; both books share the "family in a creepy house where things aren't quite right" setting, and both are stylistically innovative, although Butler's writing feels less like a puzzle to be solved and more like a hallucinogenic experience. Comparisons with David Lynch films abound in reviews of this book, and that's certainly the vibe that Butler has captured here. Personally this book reminded me a lot of Eugene Ionesco's plays (especially the Bald Soprano), in that there is no plot in the conventional sense, but nevertheless the book seems to have a 3 act structure where the narrative progresses by gradually becoming more and more absurd. Admittedly Ionesco is usually thought of as a comedy writer whereas Butler is going for horror, so there's that distinction. But I think that distinction isn't really so substantive.  For one thing: I belong to a minority of readers who consider Ionesco's plays to be horror stories, so for me the analogy is apt.  And, for another thing: while the overall vide of There is no Year is certainly creepy, there is a lot of humour in here. 

It's difficult to articulate exactly why Butler's prose is so compelling, but I think a part of the appeal is how wonderfully visual this book is.  Butler is endlessly imaginative and the reader is propelled along but on ongoing stream of delightfully strange set pieces.  I really can't recommend this book strongly enough.