A taste for rough trade and an inclination toward bestiality lead the parade of perverse charms that trudges through this impishly outré first novel.
In an arch voice that intermittently resembles those of James Purdy and Ronald Firbank, British author Rhodes (Anthropology, stories, 2000) charts the mood swings that overpower his protagonist, a disgraced composer and former bandleader who calls himself Carthusians Cockroft, and now lives in the Italian countryside (Tuscany) in a seclusion punctuated only by a succession of live-in male lovers and by the presence of Cockroft’s beloved dog Timoleon Vieta, a soulful mongrel distinguished by its “irresistible” golden eyes. (If there’s any explanation of why man and beast bear these fey, cumbersome monikers, it’s not forthcoming.) A semblance of a plot develops when Cockroft takes in another stray, a handsome, semiarticulate drifter known only as “the Bosnian” (who, however, “had never even been to Bosnia and wasn’t sure he would be able to find it on a map”). In exchange for board and rent, the Bosnian performs assorted household repairs (and weekly oral sex), but proves to be incompatible with the equally temperamental mutt, which he persuades Cockroft to abandon on the unfamiliar streets of Rome. The remainder of the story crisscrosses among revelations of Cockroft’s scandal-plagued past and of the Bosnian’s true ethnicity and identity (both actually rather neat surprises) and the adventures of Timoleon Vieta on the prowl, complete with “backstories” for the several people the dog encounters during an instinctive journey homeward that eventually connects the novel with its (acknowledged) inspiration: Eric Knight’s sentimental classic Lassie Come Home. Rhodes’s tale has its amusing moments, but it’s sabotaged by inexcusable amounts of redundancy and padding, by the promiscuous deployment of characters and motifs that disappear and reappear quite arbitrarily, and by a creepy and really quite callous surprise ending.
Rhodes has been acclaimed as one of England’s most promising young writers. No comment.