FUNERAL FOR A DOG by Thomas Pletzinger

Book Quote:

“My assignment: get on the trail of Svensson the man.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (MAY 4, 2011)

Husbands and wives who work together either end up with their marriage in trouble or being the best of friends. In German author, Thomas Pletzinger’s novel, Funeral for a Dog, it’s the first scenario for journalist Daniel Mandelkern. Mandelkern is an ethnologist who is supposed to be writing “about anthropological concepts like matrilineality and male childbed,” but instead he’s been getting a series of shit assignments from his boss/wife Elisabeth. Mandelkern is beginning to wonder if there’s an underlying message to these assignments and then he’s told to interview the reclusive Dirk Svensson, the author of a wildly successful illustrated children’s book “The story of Leo and the Notmuch.” Mandelkern protests against the assignment, and with his marriage in crisis, he storms out of his apartment on the journey to interview Svensson.

Mandelkern’s assignment is simple: interview the author and go beyond the “brief bios and conjectures about Dirk Svensson.” As there are no in-depths interviews of Svensson, this is an important assignment. No one knows exactly where Svensson lives–somewhere North of Milan on Lago di Lugano, and Mandelkern isn’t in the best of tempers when he reaches his destination. He’s met by Svensson and his three-legged dog, Lua. They are joined by Svensson’s lover, Tuuli & her son.

Funeral for a Dog starts off simply enough with a series of seven postcards sent from Mandelkern to his wife, Elisabeth. These postcards contain just a few sentences, and the words break off only to be picked up by the next card. These cryptic messages give the idea that Mandelkern has undergone some sort of cathartic experience due to the assignment. Then the book opens with a window into Mandelkern’s problematic marriage. Elisabeth publicly addresses her husband by his last name, yet privately she insists that they have a child. An early episode in the book describes sex between the couple as “warlike,” and afterwards, Mandelkern packs and leaves.

What should be a simple assignment becomes increasingly complex. Staying with Svensson, Mandelkern discovers a secret manuscript called Astroland about Svensson’s past and a ménage-a trois. At this point, the narration divides between Svensson (through his manuscript) and Mandelkern. Some parts of the novel contain a symbolic quality–Mandelkern, for example, repeatedly mentions that he cannot wash off menstrual blood left from sex with his wife. Is this symbolic for the traces of Elisabeth he cannot erase?

Pletzinger has an unusual style that took this reader some getting used to. Chapters are short, and some are transcribed phone calls and interviews. Paragraphs are the sort of note taking and questions one would expect from a journalist on assignment:

“And this thought too is only pilfered. The room smells of damp stone, even though it isn’t raining (the roof is cracked). Again the thought of Elisabeth and the assignment she has given me, for a moment I’d like to call her, we have important things to talk about, but my telephone is in my suitcase at the Hotel Lido Seegarten. I’m drunk once again, too drunk for research, I can only speculate. I should put aside my pen, I could break open the suitcase, my questions remain:

–How do I find out who Felix Blaumeiser was?
–Why does Lua only have three legs?
–Tuuli says Svensson can’t paint—who painted those pictures?
–Who exactly is Kiki Kaufman?
–How do I open the suitcase?”

The book’s intricate plot is built on the themes of love, loss and relationships. Given the title, it’s not difficult to predict the death of the dog, Lua, but that’s just one loss; there are others, and part of the novel takes place in New York 9/11/01. The motif of Borroemean rings occurs in the novel which underscores the meta-meaning of the triangular relationship between Svensson, Tuuli and a third character, Felix. Funeral for a Dog is for those who like their novels teasingly-complex, non traditional and non linear.

Readers should be aware that some passages include details of cockfight and another section details the capitations of chickens.

(Translated by Ross Benjamin.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: W. W. Norton & Company (March 28, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Thomas Pletzinger
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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May 4, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Germany, New York City, Unique Narrative, World Lit

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