It feels like a provocation for an author to include another author's name in the title of her book – especially if she calls that other author a dog within the subtitle. The name comes out of a section of the novel about a brothel in a run-down town called Caudal in Spain. There's a kennel at the back filled only with male dogs who are given the names of male authors after a feminist comes to visit the prostitutes who work there. There's also a canary bird called Harold Bloom. When clients are cruel to the prostitutes they take it out on the dogs by feeding them rotten meat. Later this image of consuming rotten meat is repeated when a man named Rodrigo dreams of a starving man who is only given putrid scraps from a butcher to eat. Images of putrid sustenance in place of nourishment for men who have heretofore escaped punishment have a strong resonance in this “civilized” society. Rodrigo is telling this story to a girl named Araceli who comes to see him at a hotel on her very first job as a call girl. Araceli is fascinated by a neighbouring woman named Alba Cambo who writes dark short stories that she and her mother seek out to read. It's difficult to pin down a single plot for this novel set in the Spanish landscape. It's essentially a collection of anecdotes, yet they all feel eerily tied together and are frequently fascinating. What Wolff gets at through all her divergences and stories within dreams within stories is a special commentary on the way self-perception works in conjunction with the way others view us.

There are stories in here about people who sell themselves, who cheat on their spouses and who live in unbearably bitter loneliness. Characters seem guided more by instinct than by logic. It's stated that “You never really know anything about anything. At best you have an aching feeling in your stomach and a compass that sometimes points right, and other times spins crazily.” Much of the time there is a slightly surreal edge to things so that when a man slips and falls unconscious in the middle of a Sitges dinner party it doesn't seem strange that conversation just carries on. People feel on guard about becoming too close to others or allowing them into their lives. They feel caution is needed because “beneath the thick skin of even the most armour-plated person there is always a crack that runs straight to the centre and you should think it over very carefully before raising a hand to signal your willingness to fall inside.” Indeed when a group of students surprise their teacher with a bottle of bubbly she unexpectedly opens up about her severe disappointment with life in a direct and uncomfortable way. So too when Araceli takes Rodrigo on as a client, but it turns out he's not after sex as he was sent to her by Alba and her own mother. Instead he wants to talk all night which strikes Araceli as in some ways more difficult to take because “Selling your body was one thing – but your mind, that was prostitution on an unparalleled scale.”

In this novel Lina Wolff is saying something really striking and original about human relationships and our relationship with literary culture. Children attending a school see literature as a diet which must be as balanced and nutritious as the food they consume: 'As literary anorexics we have to make sure we get some Borges inside us,' Muriel said. 'A few words a day, a few words that are the extremely nutritious parts of the tuna. Those are the bits that will feed us, and those are the bits from which we will be born.' This resonates strongly as I often feel that consuming the right books is important as eating right. There's a loutish man named Ilich who has an affair with Alba and blackmails Rodrigo who takes it upon himself to read “The Old Man and The Sea.” His crass interpretation of the book is laughable to Rodrigo who is more cultured. Yet, it is Ilich who ultimately succeeds in business and with Rodrigo's wife despite living a life which has been devoid of literary nourishment. When he flips through some salacious pages of Houellebecq's novel “Platform” he comments: “So this is what literature is all about? A bunch of wankers who stick pages together with their own sperm? Ha! It's enough to make you weep.” Wolff expresses in her stories a frustration with the hard economic realities of the world, but also a suspicion of the male-dominated literary culture. Her approach to depicting this reality is disarming and refreshing. “Bret Easton Ellis and The Other Dogs” is a highly unusual and haunting read.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesLina Wolff