My mother-in-law gave me a small book for my birthday. Brief but dense, allusive and slightly magical yet real in that Southern South American way. Indeed, it was by a Uruguayan Carlos Maria Dominguez. “House of Paper” is about obsessions with books, about literature and personalities, about intertextualities of all kinds, about how lives intertwine, about (the author claims, correctly I think) “how books change lives” (but he often means the physical books, rather than the contents), and about passions.
The book begins with a death. A scholar and lover of the tale-teller is hit by a car as she crosses a street in Cambridge, UK while reading Emily Dickinson. Then a package arrives. A book. Conrad’s “Shadow Line” with concrete on the cover and an inscription made by the dead woman to a former lover (not the tale-teller). With that we’re off on a quest with the writer/speaker that takes us to Uruguay by way of Argentina. Borges is a heavy influence here but others touch the brief (just over 100 page in small format) book. And of course, Conrad who is saluted throughout the book and specificially given praise at the last.
I haven’t read “Shadow Line” I suspect few living have. It’s not a well-known Conrad book. From my first probings I see that book is about crossing the line into full adulthood and like so much of Conrad a sea tale with the subtitle “A Confession.” The Conrad book is out of copyright and available in many forms including from Project Gutenberg (see link above).