Factual Bark, Fictional Bite (Pet’s Corner No.5)

The author Egor Falastrom, as we all know, is not above putting himself into his books. He readily admits that his protagonist Egor Poeur (star of such works as Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, and the forthcoming  Beauty’s Tutor) is ‘but an enhanced and improved version of me’. A vastly-enhanced-and-improved version, that is – as Heidi Kohlenberg was to find out. As she puts it: ‘Egor Poeur has it all; sensitivity, sexuality, wit, wisdom, and an amazing ability to tame wild dogs’; whereas Egor Falastrom has a ‘valiantly hideous nose’ and a copiously sweaty brow. Poeur is a projection of Falastrom’s dreams: the man he wishes he was.

But what about the dogs? Falastrom’s books, as the titles suggest, are full of dogs. Are they too fantastical projections; enhanced and improved versions of actual mutts? It would seem so. Falastrom does, after all, own several dogs: each a vagrant mongrel, rescued from the streets, nursed back to some sort of life and puchased, for a pittance, by the lonely writer. One of them, Samsom, he has described in interviews as ‘a pug-nosed wretch of a bull-dog with a severe dribbling disorder and three limpish legs, like charred tree stumps’.In his fiction, however, Samson becomes Sammo, a fiercely handsome beast who ‘drives bitches wild’. Thus the poor creature is generously rehabilitated – albeit in words.

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The Name of the Novel (2)

Boris Yashmilye’s fourth novel, Out, Damned (reviewed here) takes its title, as you will know, from Shakespeare. Although the name seems obvious for those who know the content of the novel, Yashmilye was actually half way through the book before he thought of it. The original title? Puss Mountain. I do not lie.

Lucky for us, perhaps, that he turned to the bearded bard for inspiration. Or was it? Truth be told, Shakesperean allusions have been done to death when it comes to book titles, as a new study – My Kingdom for a Name: The Complete Concordance of Shakespearean Book-titles – reveals.

To say it is an interesting read would be, I confess, unfair. In the main, the very sight of the book sickens me. But, beneath the topsoil of trollop, a handful of intriguing facts can, yet, be unearthed.

Who knew, for instance, that Ik Nunn once wrote a novella named Give Me My Robe? Or that there are, on bookshelves somewhere, novels called He Wore His Beaver Up, Cudgel Thy Brains and, most curiously, The Elephant Hath Joints, But None for Courtesy? It is a strange world we live in, that the stray words of an Elizabethan playmonger should have provided a lucky dip for desperate novel namers. But so, it seems, they have. How else can one explain Marc Safferini’s Frozen Bosom of the North?

One book missing from this concordance is, of course, Egor Falastrom’s Beauty’s Tutor, which will be published later this year. The allusion in this case is, I believe, to Love Labour’s Lost. More interesting than that, however, is the fact that Falastrom has chosen to depart from a particularly lazy vein of book naming. His last three novels, you may remember, were called Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher and Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher. Can we presume, therefore, that Beauty’s Tutor won’t feature his usual hero, the infamous dog-catcher? On the contrary, says his publicists: this book merely continues the series.

The rest is a bemused silence.

The Life-Fiddling Falastrom

Swedish novelist Egor Falastrom has always been refreshingly open about the semi-autobiographical nature of his novels, although he insists that his fiction ‘contains little that is, and a lot of what could have been’. This confuses his family and friends, who search his books for portraits of themselves, or for descriptions of situations they shared with the writer. ‘They often come across things that look familiar,’ he says, ‘but fly off in unexpected, frequently negative directions. What they can’t seem to understand is that these directions have nothing to do with them. They don’t represent my actual thoughts, or even my desires, necessarily. They aren’t symbolic realisations of my relationships with fellow human beings. They are just a projection of what could have happened, of what might have been, regardless of whether I want it or no’.

This represents a slight shift in Falastrom’s thinking. In the past he claimed that ‘no girl has ever turned me down. That is to say, most of them do, but I always get them in the end. I write them into my bed’. Now he appears to be backtracking. ‘I wouldn’t say I use fiction to get with girls I couldn’t get with in life. I’d simply say that I use fiction to explore a range of possibilities. Some of the girls I get with in my books I wouldn’t even want to get with in real life. Still, there’s no harm in, you know, taking a walk down that avenue. That’s the point, really. I fiddle with my life, in fiction – and there’s no real pattern to that fiddling, no pattern at all.’

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Man or Book?

Reading through Heidi Kohlenberg’s aforementioned review of Edmund Ek’s novel The Incredible Expletive Shock, I was struck, like the proverbial ping-pong ball, by this sentence:

‘Given the choice between Edmund Ek and his novel  [Kohlenberg was, of course, Ek’s wife] I have chosen the latter – it is that with which I will share a better relationship (i.e. on my own terms)’

The thoughts are slammed back across the table, into open court. Here they are taken up by another female reviewer, Miss J de Vejean. In her piece on Egor Falastrom’s wonderful novel, Dark-Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher (and its sequels, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher and Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher)  she describes a similar move. In her case, however, she selects the man over the book, but only on a temporary basis, as a means of getting back on good terms (i.e. self-serving terms) with the book. The love affair is, once again, with the book – and not the man. As she concludes:

‘Let’s keep things fictional. It’s more exciting, more sensual even, than you can possibly imagine.’

Fiction beats reality 2-0. Or, I should say, two-love (maybe even ‘to love’).

Unmuzzling

Lines about great heaps of knowledge and the unmuzzling of minds (to be discovered in Shakespeare’s As You Like It) remind me of a passage or two from Falastrom’s knavishly entertaining novel, Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher. There is, at times, rather too much detail in this book: as long as the monsoon is moist, authors will always insist on making sure that their readers understand the amount of research they have been required to do. Falastrom falls into this trap intermittently, but consistently drags himself out by the force of his wheedling charisma. I recall a scintillating section in which his hero – the valiant Egor Poeur – launches himself into a debate on the subject of the dog muzzle. Poeur is not the sort to support the restriction of any kind of freedom and makes the case against with typical bravado, digging with ferocity into Biblical perceptions of the uncontrolled tongue. Logic never takes its place at the table (I doubt it was even invited) but it’s a compelling argument nonetheless. This is what words can do.

Unlike our precious reviewer, I am not in love with Egor Poeur. Not in the least. Though there is a certain street in my region where many a man may admire his rugged dog-calming charms, I am not one to wander on those particular cobbles. I am often moved, however, by the man’s syntax. Of this, Falastrom is a dimly disputed minor master – as the muzzling passage proves. What well-placed commas! Oh, the sweet positioning of the parentheses! And that full stop that closes Chapter Sixteen! Now that’s a full stop. Oh yes. A great full stop.