I like dirty books. I spent three years at uni reading poems and plays and novels because they might contain a little bit of filth. Whether a text contains an Austin-esque reference to some implied shagging or a play by play description so detailed it could go in a biology text book, I have probably tried to read it with only one hand free to turn the pages.
Nicholson Baker’s latest novel “House of Holes: A book of raunch” is meant to be the dirtiest book of them all. I knew I wouldn’t need to do much page flicking to get to the bean flicking - sex is not something that disrupts the plot, it is the plot. But would it be any good? Well written erotica can be hard to come by. For every Anais Nin there are about a thousand bloggers self publishing creepy misogynistic fantasies about girl bands, TV presenters and elves. But House of Holes is wickedly whimsical - imagine porn written by Lewis Carroll.
The House of Holes is a kind of sex park run by the incorrigible Lila. People come to experience different fantasies. Some pay huge amounts of money and some are allowed to enter as working students, through fairly mundane portals including tumble driers, pens and straws. We meet Shandee, a girl who starts a relationship with the arm of a man called Dave who ditched the limb for a bigger, wider penis. Five pages in, the arm is giving Shandee’s friend an orgasm, but it’s funny and tender and hilarious as well as being hot, mainly thanks to Baker’s brilliant transcript of her climax. (“oo, oo, oo, oo, ham, ham, HAW”). The descriptions of cocks, pussies and everything in between are lyrical and funny.
If a man referred to his member as “a thundertube of dickmeat” in real life, I’m not sure how I’d react, but on the page it works. However I do plan to start calling my ladybits my “stash.” The premise of the book is, as Lila puts it, that “all orgasms are marvels”, and although the pussy cradles, Porndecahedron cinema and penis musem sound like the stuff of science fiction, the pleasure experienced by the people who use them seems very real. Shy girls and boys open up to the possibilities of bukkake (“I want to feel like a breakfast pastry!”) and go for a sandwich afterwards.
I think Nicholson’s genius lies in his ability to create characters you care about, which is usually what makes sex scenes in novels more exciting than straightforward porn. Everyone in the story is likeable, three dimensional and treats everyone around them with respect. Women wank, dance naked and walk around in “a daze of dicklust” and no-one gets called a slut. It’s a book about desire - and exploring and anticipating the desires of others as well as your own. Certain critics might dismiss it as immoral - but as far as sex and relationships go, House of Holes is one of the most strongly moral books I have ever read.