Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

Week 1: Waiting for Dogot

40 Books in 40 Weeks: I'm reading one book from my to-read shelf per week through the end of the year. Afterward, I write a post here: not a review, just a reaction to something or many things in the book. It's keeping me accountable.

Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, by Lina Wolff
Translated by Frank Perry
And Other Stories, 2016

Jacket copy. A necessary evil. The back cover of this book starts off by saying this:

"At a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, the prostitutes are collecting stray dogs. Each is named after a famous male writer: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis. When a john is cruel, the dogs are fed rotten meat."

Also, the book's title hints at these dogs. Vaguely. Around the edges.

And how long did I have to wait for the dogs to show up?? TWO HUNDRED PAGES. The whole book is only 297. And Bret is mentioned (in passing, I might add) for the first time on page 201. His backstory, and indeed the whole treatment that the dogs are given at the brothel, shows up a mere 50 pages from the end.

COME ON.

Thing is, this is an awesome book! Female narrators (for the most part) that are real, multifaceted people, telling engaging stories -- one is actually an author, explicitly writing engaging stories within this novel -- but I literally thought I'd picked up the wrong book at numerous intervals. Or maybe that the wrong cover had been slapped on. It's distracting, when all you're trying to do is enjoy the remarkably vindictive feminism of Alba Cambó, the aforementioned author, who has an interview in a magazine alongside a short story:

"In it she said that the entertainment value of a violated female body was infinite and inexhaustible and that in writing about violated male bodies her aim was to explore the kind of entertainment value they offered. Rather unwisely she pre-empted the journalist's questions by wondering rhetorically what was wrong with depicting violated male bodies when women's bodies were continually being used in literature for that purpose? Some writers wrote like lazily masturbating monkeys in overheated cages, she said. They wrote as though they had lost the taste for the real flavours of a dish and had to keep adding salt and pork fat in order to make it taste of anything. Raped and murdered women here, raped and murdered women there, that was the only way the readers' interest could be kept alive, said Alba Cambó."

Aaaaaaaaaahhhh. Thank you, Lina Wolff.

All the women's stories are better than the men's. Just in general, all throughout this book. Although one of the males who narrates his own story is a very anti-macho character, which is pretty edifying, too.

Last thing I'll say: Alba's childhood tucked away in a gorgeous house outside of a crushingly ancient rural town reminded me so much of the women in Cristina López Barrio's The House of Impossible Loves, translated by Lisa Carter a few years back. Also a really excellent book. But of course that meant that all the stories in both books started twisting around in my head, and now I think of a maid from one book as a muse from the other, just because they were both gazed at from one apartment window to another across the way. Eh, well. Worse things have happened.

At least I finally met those dogs.

Next up: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, by Ernest J. Gaines