THE PETS by Bragi Ólafsson


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Icelandic novelist Ólafsson’s English-language debut is part Beckettian or even Kafkaesque black comedy, part existentialist novel in the Paul Auster mode, and part locked-room mystery in which the murderee is alive and well and hiding in the bedroom.

The narrator of this work by the Sugarcubes’ former bassist spends most of the novel cowering under his own bed. Emil has just returned to Reykjavik after a trip to London to blow some of his lottery windfall. As he settles down with his 36 new CDs, there’s a knock on the door. Peering through the curtains, he recognizes Havard, the erratic and violent drunk who, while helping Emil pet-sit in London years before, disappeared with two valuable items after having managed to kill three of the four animals in their care. (Two he dispatched via an unfortunate accident involving wet cement, and then, the last straw, he beheaded the homeowners’ iguana for biting him.) Emil thought he’d never see Havard again, who was packed off to Sweden after numerous entanglements with the law. Yet here he is, and so Emil—sensibly, more or less—scrambles under the bed and waits for his old bogeyman to give up knocking. Havard, though, gets in through the window, ostensibly to remove the teapot left boiling, and begins poking through the apartment and drinking Emil’s duty-free booze as he awaits his host’s arrival home. Throughout the evening, more people arrive: a linguist Emil sat beside on the plane, whose spectacles he inadvertently brought home; Greta, the fantasy girl of his youth whom he met again in a lavatory queue on the flight; and several friends come to claim their gift CDs. Before long Havard is hosting a bizarre, alcohol-soaked party/vigil, with Emil observing events from his hidden vantage point.

Dark, strange, elusive, compelling and oddly charming.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-934824-01-6
Page count: 158pp
Publisher: Open Letter
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2008