2 from 2011 featuring dogs: Rhodes & Raisin

This post was republished into my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive.

A man, his lover, & his dog – Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes

This is the story of a mongrel dog with the ‘saddest eyes in the world’. One day a stray dog turns up at retired British composer Cockcroft’s Italian villa. The dog has beautiful eyes and Cockcroft is very happy to gain a new companion, for he has been lonely since his last lover left. Soon man and dog become inseparable.

Cockcroft hates being alone, and has over the years since his enforced retirement from the UK in disgrace, somehow managed to attract a stream of willing house-guests by offering room and board in return for a weekly blow job! One day, a visitor arrives unexpectedly – a handsome Bosnian, whom it turns out Cockcroft invited him to visit when he was last in Florence. Timoleon Vieta growls at him taking a mutual instant dislike, but Cockcroft welcomes him even though he can’t remember who he is. The Bosnian, who is keen to lie low for a bit, insinuates himself into Cockcroft’s life. He does odd jobs, and performs his weekly service, but he wishes all the time that he could get rid of the dog. His wish comes true on a trip to Rome, when he forces Cockcroft to abandon Timoleon Vieta there.

The second part of the book is then the story of all the people whom Timoleon Vieta comes into contact with as he tries to get home to Tuscany and his beloved master. All these people are falling in and out of love, and Timoleon Vieta passes through their lives briefly, but their love is no match for his master’s.

This novel was Dan Rhodes’ first, and having read and loved one of his later ones, Gold, which was like a twisted version of Last of the Summer Wine, I was hoping to really enjoy this book. Timoleon Vieta come home is much more savage in its humour and darker throughout than the later novel. With some graphic descriptions you need to be rather broad-minded too. I didn’t engage with the stories within the story of the second half much though – they were full of emotion and exquisitely crafted but some were quite extended, and I was itching to find out what was happening with Cockcroft and the Bosnian.

Rhodes has created some memorable main characters: Cockcroft is a silly old fool, and the Bosnian, although not nice, turns out to be quite complex – but what of the dog? Sorry, I can’t tell you – you’ll have to read it yourself. (7.5/10)

Source: Own copy.  Dan Rhodes, Timoleon Vieta Come Home (2003), Canongate paperback, 214 pages.

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A young man and his dog against the world – God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin

Sam Marsdyke is nineteen, and due to something that happened in his past, is stuck working on his family’s sheep farm on the North York Moors instead of getting a life.  Virtually ignored by his parents, he wanders the moors with his dog looking at the world from up there with a mixture of amusement, detachment and resentment.

One day life starts to get more interesting for him.  A family of ‘towns’ moves into the farm next door; moved out from the city to get a better life. He sees them arrive, and watches the teenaged daughter laughing with the removals men…

She’d know about me before too long. Not me, course, but my history, painted up in all the muckiest colours by some tosspot, gagging to set her against me. A piece of gossip travels fast through a valley. The hills keep it in. It goes from jaw to jaw all the way along till it’s common news, true or not. Specially when the valley’s full of tosspots, such as this one.

It’s obvious right from the beginning that Sam’s resentments run far deeper than just the incomers, he has little time for anyone except his dog.  It’s also obvious that he’s going to fall for the girl, and she too, appears to be interested in this lanky young man – or is she just using him?  ‘Ere long, they get into some scrapes together, and you know it will all go very, very wrong…

The entire novel is narrated entirely by Sam, and scattered finely with lovely Yorkshire dialect words such as fettling, trunklements and blatherskite – all good woody words, (to quote Monty Python). Unusually for me I didn’t find that the dialect got in the way, Raisin has a light hand with it and gives Sam a distinct voice.   Underneath it all Sam is shy; his schoolmates all called him ‘Lankenstein’; he tends to blurt and lash out, making decisions that he played out totally differently in the fantasies in his head, making him a rather unreliable narrator.  You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next, as his thoughts and the reality of his actions are often very different.  It was this duality to Sam that absolutely gripped me from the start.

I really enjoyed the scenery too tramping over the moors with Sam, who is quite the nature boy. There is a fair bit of humour in the novel, but as you might expect, it gets darker as it goes.  I found this novel ‘reet gradely’ (well my maternal grandmother was Yorkshire-born), and thoroughly recommend it. (9/10)

I had the pleasure of meeting the author last week at the Penguin blogger’s event.  We talked a little about the use of dialect, and I said I thought he had a light touch with it. He told me that this hadn’t gone down so well in America, (where the book is published as Out Backwards), which is a shame.

His next book Waterline is set in the shipyards of the Clyde in Glasgow, and will also be full of rich regional language. He’s going to have some lessons in Glaswegian for readings when it comes out!

See what others think – read John Self of Asylum’s thoughts from 2009 here and Dovegreyreader’s review from 2008 here.

Source: Own Copy. Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (Viking, 2008) Penguin paperback, 224 pages.

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