The Ugliest House in the World

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Overview

Davies's worldly stories, reflecting his Welsh and Chinese heritage, delight in odd—and memorable—juxtapositions and counterpoints. Elegant and original, they travel "with an offhand grace" (Elle) from Coventry to Kuala Lumpur, from the past to the present, and from hilarity to tragedy. With its humanism and pointed wit, this collection "signals the debut of a major talent" (Chang-rae Lee).

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The Ugliest House in the World

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Overview

Davies's worldly stories, reflecting his Welsh and Chinese heritage, delight in odd—and memorable—juxtapositions and counterpoints. Elegant and original, they travel "with an offhand grace" (Elle) from Coventry to Kuala Lumpur, from the past to the present, and from hilarity to tragedy. With its humanism and pointed wit, this collection "signals the debut of a major talent" (Chang-rae Lee).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The eight stories in this first collection from British-born Oregonian Davies promise to keep you on your toes. They start benignly, often comically, but inevitably there comes a moment when, with the briefest of phrases, Davies startles the reader with a sudden turn down some melancholy and treacherous path." Publishers Weekly

"Allows us access not just to exotic latitudes, but to a realm of the imagination." The Chicago Tribune

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The eight stories in this first collection from British-born Oregonian Davies promise to keep you on your toes. They start benignly, often comically, but inevitably there comes a moment when, with the briefest of phrases, Davies startles the reader with a sudden turn down some melancholy and sometimes treacherous path. The excellent title story seems at first a gentle account of a son visiting his ailing father in the countryside of Wales. The narrative unfurls gradually, and it is a shock when the reason for the visit is suddenly revealed: the funeral of a six-year-old boy who died when the stone gatepost on the father's property collapsed on him. Here, as in other tales, Davies delivers the full import of events with haunting realism. Not all of the stories are so blue. A series of plot twists produce several delightful surprises in "I Don't Know, What Do You Think?" in which Clive, who is still recovering from the death of his daughter, begins working at a suicide hotline, befriends a transsexual named Mary and finds himself concealing Mary's secret from his wife. Settings that range from England to Patagonia, Africa and Asia are home to an appealing variety of characters whose voices are as distinctive as their accents. The book's one slight disappointment is the novella "A Union," an affecting but melodramatic account of a strike at a Welsh slate quarry in 1899. But in the main, Davies wields words with precision and delicacy, crafting stories admirable for their spare style, taut prose and arresting images. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: Two of these stories appeared in editions of The Best American Short Stories.
Kirkus Reviews
A debut collection of short fictions, ingenious, moving, and exasperating in turn.

At his best, as in the title story about the way in which a child's death polarizes a Welsh village, Davies exhibits a sharp, unblinking, persuasive view of human nature, as well as a deft hand at plotting: The deceptively quiet tale, somewhat distanced in its effect by the rather prissy voice of the narrator, builds to a moving climax and a haunting final image. Davies often demonstrates an uncanny ability for suggesting the outlines of character in speech: The narrator of the story, a physician and the son of the man blamed for the child's accidental death, is very convincing precisely because he seems so wilfully insensitive to the events that he's describing. The reader has to work to puzzle out what really has happened, and the labor is well rewarded. "A Union," a novella tracing the course of a strike in Welsh village in 1899, rings some unusual changes on a subject often reserved for melodramas. Davies is particularly good at catching the mingled affection and resentment shaping village life, and at suggesting the ways in which events can overtake even the most cannily arranged plans. Davies also has a clear affection for these characters, a quality not noticeable in some of the other stories, including the aggressively postmodern "Relief" and "Safe." The first deals with the survivors of the battle of Rorke's Drift, in which a Welsh company repulsed the attack of a Zulu army in South Africa. It dwells largely on flatulence, in what is meant to be a send-up of colonial icons, but the irony falls rather flat. "Safe," about the hapless adventures of an aging Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, has little new to suggest about the pair and seems rather wearily referential, more concerned with the duo as hazy icons than as actual characters.

Still, overall, there's sufficient energy and originality here to suggest that Davies is a writer well worth watching.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395924808
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Ho Davies is on the faculty of the graduate program in creative writing at the University of Michigan. His debut collection The Ugliest House in the World won the John Llewellyn Rhys and PEN/Macmillan awards in Britain. His second collection, Equal Love, was hailed by the New York Times Book Review for its 'stories as deep and clear as myth.' It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. In 2003 Davies was named among the 'Best of Young British Novelists' by Granta. The Welsh GIrl is his first novel. The son of a Welsh father and Chinese mother, Davies was raised in England and spent his summers in Wales. He is married and has one son.

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Table of Contents

The Ugliest House in the World 1
Relief 27
A Union 47
Safe 127
I Don't Know, What Do You Think? 145
Coventry 165
Buoyancy 191
The Silver Screen 205
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