Monday, October 20, 2008

The Pets (A Review)

Bragi Ólafsson used to be in a band with Björk, which should probably give you a clue as to the . . . uniqueness of his character, although Open Letter Press director Chad Post claims he is a very nice guy. I like Chad so I'll take his word for it, but the Ólafsson novel I'm about to review does feature some very, um . . . funny animal abuse. Is that the right word? Funny?

The Pets
(Open Letter Press, 2008), translated from Icelandic by Janice Balfour (157 pages) and originally titled Gæludýrin, is essentially one of those pieces of black comedy that is really funny but also probably shouldn't be funny at all. The entire thing is basically Emil hiding under his bed from a psychopathic acquaintance who proceeds to host a bizarre drinking party for Emil's friends. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Emil had stupidly asked Havard (the nut), whom he didn't know well at the time, to house-sit with him in London, having been charged with caring for the several small pets that lived there. And so Havard, um, killed them all. One got decapitated, while another two got coated with cement dust and then sprayed with a garden hose during a malicious/misguided cleaning attempt. (Even more disturbing: Ólafsson claimed that particular incident actually occurred in real life and inspired the whole book.) Now Emil thought that Havard had since been committed to a mental institution in Sweden and was struck with terror to see him out the window while boiling some water. When no one answers the door, Havard spies the water on the stove and, good citizen he is, decides Emil has forgotten it and goes in to take it off. Emil is by now safely under the bed. Havard doesn't leave. People show up. Alcohol is consumed.

That's pretty much it. I'm not sure what else there is to say, other than it's certainly a very surreal and darkly humorous work. The Open Letter Press online catalogue describes it as "[a]n alternately dark and hilarious story of cowardice, comeuppance, and assumed identity" with a deceptively simple plot that conceals its topical richness. I dunno . . . I just mostly thought it was very, very odd. I know that's not a very deep analysis, but I was unable to get over what happened to those poor, poor animals! I mean, it was awful! The hamsters were named Moby and Dick! The owner loved his little pets!

Um, yeah.

For some better reviews of The Pets click here and here.


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