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A House and Its Head (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – February 28, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Ivy Compton-Burnett is one of the most original, artful, and elegant writers of our century.
— Hilary Mantel

A radical thinker, one of the rare modern heretics.
— Mary McCarthy

No writer did more to illuminate the springs of human cruelty, suffering, and bravery.
— Angus Wilson

About the Author

Ivy Compton-Burnett (1892-1969) wrote over fifteen novels about the upper classes of the late Victorian period. The novels are constructed almost entirely of seemingly banal dialogue that eventually reveals, beneath its surface, the truths of human nature and insights into human relationships which Compton-Burnett took as her themes. Her works include Pastors and Masters, A Family and a Fortune, Manservant and Maidservant, and A House and Its Head

Francine Prose is the author of three collections of stories and ten novels. Her most recent novel, The Blue Angel, was nominated for the National Book Award.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Edition edition (March 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322646
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm beginning to become addicted to these little neglected treasures that the NYRB Press is reissuing. Not only are the editions themselves little marvels (with beautiful and well-chosen color covers and gorgeous paper stock), but whoever is making the choices for which books are reissued has near-infallible taste.
A HOUSE AND ITS HEAD, like so many of Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels, reads something like a modern updating of a Greek tragedy: most of the novel is told through dialogue, there is a kind of chorus that comments on the action of the principal characters, and the plot involves murder, incest, and familial cruelty. Yet for all these borrowings Compton-Burnett paradoxically remains wonderfully sui generis: no one else has ever mastered her capability for evoking such extreme subtlety in manners that the merest cruel nuances can become evoked (if one reads carefully enough). She is also a master plotter: just when you think you've caught up with the characters' schemes, she allows the other characters in the novel to make similar realizations, and then jumps even further ahead. This is a real page-turner as well as a subtle commentary on Edwardian manners and moral monstrousness.
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Format: Paperback
Compton-Burnett (abbreviated as CB henceforth) is one of the truly remarkable modernist writers, with a span of resonant fiction that she wrote from the 1920s through to the 1960s.

Her fiction is remarkable for two reasons. Her dialogue, for one, which she uses to convey her characters' identities, their tensions, complexities, resentments, repressions and sometimes their - and always CB's - savage irony.

By savage, I mean that CB is a wonderful Swiftian ironist/satirist, and scalpel-sharp. This is the other reason why her fiction stands out. You can trace her influence on other notable modernists, in particular and most especially William Gaddis (e.g., Recognitions, Carpenter's Gothic, and Jr), Henry Green (e.g., Loving; Living; Party Going), the dialogue from the early plays of Harold Pinter Complete Works, Vol. 1 and sometimes Samuel Beckett.

In her fiction CB has a set of themes she returns to time and again - you could call them obsessions, in a way, from the Victorian repressive household settings, to the patriarchal, remote, powerfully domineering father/husband of the household, to the anaesthetised (dream-state-like) wives.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ivy Compton-Burnett may not be a household name, and may even be obscure among dedicated readers of literary fiction, but that shouldn't be the case. Writing almost entirely in dialogue, Compton-Burnett uses the frame of polite conversation in Victorian England in this novel to expose deeply flawed characters willing both to commit things like adultery, murder and a whole host of other acts leading up to a casually stunning final few chapters. The delightfully slithering way Compton-Burnett's characters behave in A House and Its Head make for feverish reading if you're willing to have a little patience at the start to get to know the many characters. Compton-Burnett's work is also interesting as a precursor to William Gaddis in its brilliant use of dialogue, but you should read A House and Its Head on its own merits and you'll absolutely be rewarded for your effort.
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