Sunday, March 20, 2011

Funeral for a Dog, by Thomas Pletzinger

Dirk Svensson has written a children's book called Leo and the Notmuch. It's a children's picture book about grief, and it's such a phenomenal hit that Daniel Mandelkern has been dispatched by his wife (also his boss) to interview Svensson and publish a nice, long profile of the man behind this incredible book.

Daniel Mandelkern is really an ethnologist attempting to be a journalist, and his wife, Elisabeth, is sure that Daniel is the perfect person for this job. In the end, it appears that she is right, but the results are not at all what she had in mind.

The beginning of this novel follows one man and then the other. The reader experiences the rich chaos of Dirk's mind, a sharp contrast to Daniel's reality. Afterwards, it focuses on Daniel's perception of Dirk and his zany life.

Dirk Svensson is indeed a very strange man, as Mandelkern experiences over and over again. Mandelkern arrives at a secluded Italian lake for an afternoon and somehow winds up staying four days, during which time he and Svensson have some very odd interactions and Mandelkern's only tangible information comes from two other people in his life, plus a manuscript Svensson has written that seems to be either an autobiography or a novel based on his life. Mandelkern reads this clandestinely; he must snoop and observe others very closely for every speck of knowledge. It did pay to be an ethnologist.

What does he find out? First, he meets Tuuli, who arrives with a small boy who may or may not be Svensson's son. She informs Mandelkern that everything Svensson says is made up, that he is just inventing a world that he can live with.

Then, Mandelkern keeps running into the name Felix Blaumeister. Who is he? He's obviously important in Svensson's life, but Tuuli will only tell him that Felix is dead, that he drank himself to death. She says nothing else about him.

From Svensson's manuscript, Mandelkern learns that Tuuli, Felix, and Svensson were very close friends, that they first came together as young volunteers in Brazil.

Why is Tuuli here now? She and Svensson do not seem to be particularly enjoying each other. Svensson has made a vague declaration that this is a celebration, of sorts. What is all this about?

And then, there is sweet, gentle, silent Lua, the big black mostly German Shepherd dog that has long been in Svensson's life. The first thing Mandelkern notices about Lua is that one of his front legs has been amputated, and not recently. Tuuli allows that she did the job, and that Lua would have bled to death had she not acted, but again, there is no rest of the story.

It is not until Kiki Kauffman arrives on the scene that Daniel Mandelkern gets the picture. Or perhaps I should say that she interprets the pictures, for she is his artist and mate. She likens Dirk, Tuuli, and Felix to borromean rings,

three rings that are linked until one is removed. There is a story behind Felix's death, as the reader surmises early on. And the story of how Lua came into their lives was an intense bonding.

And now, Lua is the one who is saying good-bye. The word celebration does not seem appropriate, but Dirk Svensson does need to mark this passage in a significant way that will also pay some homage to Felix.

And now, see, I'm crying. Funeral for a Dog is actually very subtle, not at all maudlin. I enjoyed the writing style very much. Meanwhile, as Daniel Mandelkern is finally making his way home, he realizes that he has found himself.

This was a freebie from The Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing, and a very memorable one.


actonbell said...

I'm dissatisfied with this review; it doesn't make it clear that it's just as much about Daniel Mandelkern and his own baggage, and what he takes away from Dirk Svensson's story.

Doug said...

I hate to but kind of agree. I didn't get a great sense of the story. But I'll add that I wouldn't have noticed except that your book reviews are so excellent in general.

And happy Spring! It's raining here which Socalese for sunny.

Faycin A Croud said...

This book sounds cool and offbeat. I'll have to put it on my list of things to eventually read. It's a very long list!

actonbell said...

Yeah, Doug, the real star here is Pletzinger's writing and his use of recurring symbols, not the actual plot. The details Mandelkern must dig up are not the point. Even the characters themselves are not as intersting as the style of the book. I did get caught up in the mystery of what had actually taken place, but--it's not why I was driven to keep reading this book. Sometimes I have a hard time pinpointing WHY I like something!

Faycin, you'd like this one, I just feel that in my bones.

Doug said...

That would explain why reviewing the book would be difficult.

TLP said...

I enjoyed the review. Would I like this one?