For this Recommended Reading column, writer P.A. O’Reilly, whose latest novel The Fine Colour of Rust is out now, lists four books about man’s best friend that provide her with inspiration via their intense mix of savagery and beauty.
When I’ve finished a piece of writing and I am casting around for an image or idea or landscape or line of dialogue or even a sentence – whatever is powerful enough to compel me to write something new – I like to read work that is different, that jolts me out of my normal space. So for some different reading recommendations after having recently published The Fine Colour of Rust – a book of humour in the face of adversity – I’ve selected four books that bring us face to face with horror and strange fierce beauty.
We talk about the dog as ‘man’s best friend’, we award dogs medals for bravery, we give dogs as gifts, we use them as helper animals. We love them and bring them into our homes as part of the family. Yet, like our human family, these animal friends can turn, without warning, and savage us. Sometimes they kill us.
Unlike the sentimental depiction of dog-love in books like Marley and Me, the relationships between dogs and humans, dogs and dogs, and humans and humans are explored in extraordinary and disturbing ways in the following books.
Animalinside, text, László Krasznahorkai, illustration, Max Neumann
László Krasznahorkai is a Hungarian novelist best known for his works The Melancholy of Resistance and War & War. He is also the screenwriter and inspiration for several films by the Hungarian director Béla Tarr. Animalinside is a series of short pieces written in response to fourteen images of a strange dog-like creature created by Max Neumann, brought together in a small, exquisitely produced booklet. The text is absurd, ironic, apocalyptic, savage and funny. It speaks directly to the animal inside us. It mocks and grovels and rages in powerful language.
Dog Boy, Eva Hornung
In this novel, a child abandoned for reasons unknown is raised by feral dogs and learns, as well as he can, a dog’s skills to survive on the streets of Moscow. The book is confronting, thrillingly and disgustingly visceral, dark and exhilarating. After being pretty much ignored when it first came out, it won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction in 2010.
Lives of the Monster Dogs, Kirsten Bakis
A group of genetically and mechanically enhanced dogs, versed in Prussian culture and manners by the masters they have escaped, arrives in New York in the contemporary era. The book came out in the late nineties, and some aspects of it seem dated now but it was startlingly different then. The story of the dogs, their original creator and the descendants who carried on his work, is told through journal entries of characters from different eras, newspaper articles and a libretto. It is a melancholy and moving book.
The Dogs: A Modern Bestiary, Rebecca Brown
This book, like the dogs in it, is a strange beast indeed. An unnamed narrator returns to her apartment one day to find that a Dobermann has moved in. The Dobermann, called Miss Dog, is charismatic and ruthless – and soon there is a pack of Dobermanns living in the apartment. Various chapters use different frameworks to test and explore the twisted relationship between the narrator, Miss Dog and the other dogs: a fairy tale, a play, a fable, a biblical-style revelatory passage. This is an uncomfortable and challenging read.