Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Boys' Book Club Examines Animal Narrators (and Yet Another Vampire Book)

If you're in search of something to read during your snow days, we've spotted a new trend in serious literature that's possibly worth your attention: books narrated by animals.

Andrew O'Hagan's The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe received a major spread in a recent NY-Times book review:

"With his canine acquaintances, Maf debates Aristotle and Plutarch. He knows about all the great novels (and can cite their canine characters). He speaks with ease about art and film. And he’s a bit of a literary artist himself; his observations are often strikingly phrased."

Chip: "I hate when dogs put on airs."

Or perhaps you're more in the mood for a monkey's point-of-view. Consider The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, by Benjamin Hale, which gets an "A-" from Entertainment Weekly:

"Making your main character a talking ape — and one who engages in a romantic liaison with a human being, no less — is ambitious, to say the least. But from the first page, it is clear that Bruno is more than mere literary gimmickry; he is fascinating and fully formed...Since he's a defensive and unreliable narrator with an unorthodox sexual predilection, the easy comparison point for Bruno is Lolita's Humbert Humbert, but he calls to mind that book's author just as readily. "

Richard: "So this book DOES contain clever Nabokovian wordplay? Because it seems to need something more than just a horny ape to keep us serious-minded readers engaged."

Yes, EW cites this example: "When Bruno mishears the name of a famous linguist, he begins having terrifying visions of a toothy dwarf named Gnome Chompy."

Richard: "Hilarious. I will buy this book before the day is over."

And perhaps animal narration is poised to sweep the film world as well. Miranda July's new film, The Future, is narrated by a stray cat taken in by a thirty-something couple: "July herself voices that stray cat (in a high-pitched, childish voice), who's occasionally animated by halting puppetry." (NYMag).

Chip: "When this film opens at Liberty Hall, PLEASE do not invite me to see it. I tire quickly of whimsy."

But of course all these works are likely to be overshadowed by the new supernatural buzz-book of the season, Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches. Here's the plot summary:

"Diana has spent most of her life resisting the magic within her. The power she's long denied swirls to the forefront, however, when she opens a bewitched manuscript in Oxford's famous Bodleian Library. Suddenly every vampire, witch, and daemon — yes, they walk among us; we humans are just oblivious to their presence — is up in her grill, hungry for the secrets she's unknowingly unlocked." (EW).

Chip: "I like how this book reviewer speaks to me on my level, using phrases that I often use, such as 'up in her grill.'"

Entertainment Weekly offers a "B+," with this critique:

"Alas, there's a bit of bloat to the book. In a particularly saggy patch, Diana and Matthew loll around a French castle, checking e-mail and tracing each other's collarbones."

Personally, that was our favorite part.


Anonymous said...

Yeah.....yeah. Then, let's go buying that book from former libral Supreme Court Justice Breyer and read that bullshit. That there'll be a two-barrel load of laughs. Think I'd rather read a goddamned book from a goddamned animal perspective? Hell no! Animals is a for shootin' and a eatin' not a readin'.......You must be out-of-yer goddamned mind......shoot.....

Professor Cap'n said...

The boys may be better served by indulging in those novels that America's great novelist, Bret Easton Ellis, delights in.

For starters, one might look to Jill Eisenstadt, a college contemporary of BEE. Her first work, "From Rockaway," is a coming of age novel set in the island beach community off Queens. In it, we encounter Alex, a 'Rot-away' native now attending Camden (the same setting as BEE's "Rules of Attraction") and her friends back home. Here, Eisenstadt utilizes BEE's hallmark multi-narratorial approach to touch in with the several interrelated and overlapping narratives evolving in and around the working-class storyscape.

Yet, Eisenstadt presents her characters as less detached and amoral than BEE. They are obsessed more with the death of innocence and incipient irrelevance rather than, let's say, the death of prostitutes and complete emotional detachment. However, in typical BEE style, ample references to teenage sex, drug use and the homeless are prevalent, illustrating the convergence of the college experiences of Eisenstadt and BEE.

For me, this is a quick read with ample profundity for discussion in, say, an urban literature course. And I, the Cap'n, would gladly guest teach this section (ahem, Dr. Nogger) if Chip wouldn't mind joining me to snicker at all the boner references sure to surface during class discussion.

Chip said...

Can you guarantee me a boner-ratio of about one every 15-20 pages? And does this have more or less masturbation than The Ice Storm, which may hold the record.

Dolores Haze said...

So "Gnome Chompy" is what passes for "wit" in the literary world nowadays? A novel that combines Lolita with the ape from Ishmael...why didn't I think of that???