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There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe

There Are Doors (original 1988; edition 2001)

by Gene Wolfe

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4931020,740 (3.53)14
Title:There Are Doors
Authors:Gene Wolfe
Info:Orb Books (2001), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 313 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites

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There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe (1988)

  1. 00
    The Girl in a Swing by Richard Adams (saltmanz)
    saltmanz: These are two drastically different books, and yet oddly they share so many little details.
  2. 00
    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: Some passageways we go through by choice, other by accident. Some doors take you to another room, other a lot farther.

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Well, if anyone was going to pull off a third person unreliable narrator right, it was going to have to be Gene Wolfe, and yes, he did it, brilliantly. Which is to say that my brain hurts kind of a lot right now from being turned inside out, marked with chalk, tried on by a crazy man to see if it will fit, altered by a seamstress and worn in a blizzard by... well, is it the same crazy man? Most likely. But then, is it the same crazy man in the same crazy world?

There Are Doors' protagonist, occasionally known as A.C. Pine or Mr. Green but most often simply as "He"* is either a mental patient in the sweetly harmless tradition of the guy in the bunny slippers in Twelve Monkeys, or a voyager between only slightly dissimilar dimensions via the titular doors, or both. Nor is his love interest, Lara/Laura/Lora a woman with a reliable nature and identity. Nor is the maternal owner of the Italian restaurant they frequent -- a place that, incidentally, seems to be in both worlds, as he demonstrates with a cash register experiment: when he breaks a bill, his change is in the "real" world's currency, while his lunch companion gets change native to that other world.

And, in that other world, it is apparently possible to get fat sheafs of high denomination real world currency, sold for spirit money in a Chinese junk shop for pennies on the dollar. And buildings and places are similar in that world, but have the heavy analog quality of the 1950s, with the exception of the cars. And, most importantly (or not), men do not long survive after having sex, dying off like drone bees; Lara, we are told, left the sort-of-named protagonist behind after living with him for just a few days because she couldn't bear to watch him die.

And the pronouns get confusing, because there is a he protagonist and she object whom he chases, neither named very often, interacting with other, pronoun-denominated hes and shes, lending a funky extra layer of ambiguity to a novel that, let's face it, didn't really need one. But that's Gene Wolfe for you. Really, the man drives me mad.

For my part I imagine Gene Wolfe having obsessively read Doctor Zhivago and Confessions of a Crap Artist and watched Invasion, that fantastic old Argentinian film written by Jorge Luis Borges and Aldolfo Bioy Cesares, just as I imagine China Mieville, decades later (There Are Doors dates back to the 1980s), poring obsessively over this novel as he wrote The City & The City. I'm probably very wrong in both notions, but they did keep occurring to me as I read.

I wonder what I'll think of next time -- for there will be a next time. There must, always, with Gene Wolfe.

*But not in that H.P. Lovecraft way. ( )
1 vote KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
There Are Doors contains all of the features you should expect from a Gene Wolfe book- unreliable narrator, multiple ways to interpret the action, names with hidden significance, stories within the story, etc. Unfortunately it doesn't present these features in a way that's as interesting as some of Wolfe's other work.

This book keeps you on uncertain footing for much longer than the average Wolfe book- it's not until the halfway mark that one explanation for the situation is spelled out, and while it's easy enough to pick up almost all of the information before that information dump occurs, the first sixty or seventy pages keep throwing things at you so frequently it's all but impossible to keep your bearings.

More so than any other Wolfe book, the unreliable nature of the main character's perceptions is brought front and center, and emphasized repeatedly so that it's impossible to forget. While The Wizard Knight brought up the unreliable narrator/alternative explanation in its early chapters and then abandoned it, making you wonder why it was included at all, this book goes in the other direction: the fact that the protagonist is mentally unstable is such a large element of the book that it almost pushes the other explanation of the plot into a secondary position. Wolfe struck the perfect balance for an unreliable narrator in The Book of the New Sun, and this book doesn't walk that knife edge.

It's also an outlier in the Gene Wolfe Oeuvre that the possible explanations for the events of the story are rather clearly laid out. Unlike some of his other work, like Peace, where you have to pay close attention to every detail to catch everything and thus get the most out of the experience, There Are Doors doesn't make you work as hard. Essentially there are two major ways to interpret the events of the book, and either could be the truth (or the truth could lie somewhere in between): Possibility 1 is that the protagonist, who is largely kept nameless, is a mentally unbalanced person prone to breakdowns. This man is creating an elaborate fantasy world to deal with his relationship with the woman he is in love with, who works as a receptionist at his psychiatrist's office. When he meets up with the receptionist his delusions manifest again, and the final fifty pages or so are all in his head (as are most things that happen in the story). Possibility 2 is that the protagonist has fallen in love with a goddess of sorts, who has the ability to pass through different alternate dimensions. The protagonist, having been exposed to her, gains the ability to do the same and accidentally finds himself in one such alternate dimension. This alternate dimension is similar but different to our own, and people from other dimensions regularly find themselves there. While trying to figure out what is happening, and also trying to find the goddess, the protagonist gets drawn into a conflict between the secret police and a group of rebels that are led by a visitor like himself. If this is the real explanation of events then the story ends with the protagonist renewing his search for the goddess, palling to delve into yet more alternate dimensions in the attempt.

Unfortunately, although both of these possibilities are somewhat interesting in their own right, the book divides its attention between the two so evenly that I thought both suffered for it: both plot lines felt half baked in terms of execution. Also, Wolfe's writing style doesn't lend itself to either of these possibilities being particularly gripping or tense. In Wolfe's books the protagonists tend to take everything in stride- or at least are in a position to tell the reader that they did so. Here, however, either of the possibilities outlined above would have left the average person mystified and scared, confused and disoriented. Instead this protagonist also seems to take everything in stride, diffusing much of the tension that similar books like Karinthy's Metropole or Kafka's The Trial or The Castle can evoke. Kafka especially manages to make the reader feel this tension even when the protagonist doesn't, but Wolfe fails to pull off a similar feat here. Wolfe is a great writer, so maybe writing about these bizarre events in a straightforward way was an intentional choice, but if so I can't think of a reason to justify it.

This book is fine, but having read Wolfe's best it's hard not to consider There Are Doors as an inferior exploration of these literary devices and ideas. If you're looking for a standalone Wolfe book I'd recommend Peace, which features many of Wolfe's signature characteristics but done in a more satisfying manner. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
I had a bad experience with Gene Wolfe. I read his Book of the New Sun a long time ago, and found it both confused and confusing; I didn't like it.

I can enjoy complexity in a novel, but I like there to be a point to the whole thing. I like there to be some sort of fundamentally coherent plot. Too many books lack that. I hate books in which the protagonist (if there is one) is insane, or reality changes in arbitrary and unexplained ways...much as I love the 60's, I don't care for a lot of the writing that came out of that era. I don't like psychedelic works for the most part.

Music, of course, is a different story. And I loved the movie of The Yellow Submarine. But I detest books which are basically incoherent ravings while the author was high (or even if he wasn't).

I don't remember a damn thing about The Book of the New Sun except the mercury-filled sword Terminus Est (which was a cool concept, but seemed structurally unsound), but I know I didn't like it. It was confusing and unsatisfying. So I avoided Wolfe for many years, despite all the raves.

But I must have picked up There Are Doors for free or almost-free some time ago, and I grabbed it at random when I needed a new book to read on my commute.

And it actually wasn't bad! True, there were changes in reality (actually, switches between two realities) that happened without much explanation until near the end of the book. True, the hero was somewhat passive and a bit stupid, and spent a fair amount of time in an insane asylum under the influence of electroshock and drugs. The whole thing was a bit confused. But all in all it actually worked reasonably well, and by the end I found myself wishing for a sequel.

There isn't one, of course. Oh well. ( )
  PMaranci | Apr 3, 2013 |
Weeeiird. But good. Thankfully it's a short book, because I had close to no idea what was going on until halfway through. But after that, I couldn't put it down. Gene Wolfe has a singular talent for making you go "Wait. What?" and start flipping pages back to find that one phrase or passage that you can't quite remember but suddenly realize was incredibly significant. ( )
1 vote saltmanz | Oct 27, 2009 |
Sorry - my opinion differs : Sorry my opinion differs greatly.

I cannot believe I see all those 5 stars! 5 stars to me is for Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. 4 Stars would be for Stephen King's Carrie or Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy. I cannot see how this book is deserving of anything more than a two tops!

I did completely fall for the character and his love for all different people he encountered, not just Lara. Even with that being said I think he really needed to pull open that hidden compartment of the desk and find a spine! Not Tina!!! How wishy-washy can one man be when it comes to matters of the heart yet be so fearless when saving another man's life?

Although I felt completely robbed at the ending and wished for the couple weekends back that it took me to read this book, I would not buy a sequel if there were one.

I wouldn't classify this book as Science Fiction Fantasy at all - I would call it delusional at best.
  iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312872305, Paperback)

There Are Doors is the story of a man who falls in love with a goddess from an alternate universe. She flees him, but he pursues her through doorways-interdimensional gateways-to the other place, determined to sacrifice his life, if necessary, for her love. For in her world, to be her mate . . . is to die.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:20 -0400)

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