PAULINE HOLDSTOCK'S THIRD novel, House (Beach Holme, 149 pages, $14.95 paper), is an odd book -- part science fiction, part poetry, pan mystery. The story, set in England in the future after the "Mishap" has wreaked economic and environmental havoc on the planet, centres on 13-year-old Tots and her quest for her identity. Tots, one of a household of indentured servants in the Master's house, longs to find out her real name, her parentage. She doesn't believe what she was told -- that she was found as an infant on the doorstep -- and explores the house room by room in an effort to find the missing half of her contract of indenture.
It is Holdstock's occasional black humour, sparse but striking metaphors, and dead-on characterization that lift what might have otherwise been an uninteresting story to unexpected heights. The cumulative effect is similar to that of a poem sequence: images recur, scenes echo one another and coalesce into psychological truth. Tots wants the pieces of her indenture "just to hold them whole, both halves, this evidence of self." In the end she learns that she is completely and simply who she is -- with or without documents.