Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Timbuktu by Paul Auster

Books told from a dog’s perspective can be tricky.  They can include goofy assumptions about how dogs perceive the world or they can imbue the dog with so many human characteristics as to make you forget the protagonist has four legs and a tail.  Luckily, Timbuktu avoids those traps.  Mr. Bones is a dog.  There are no two ways around it.  He does have a very wide vocabulary but even that is explained by the fact that Mr. Bones’ owner, Willy, talks to him like he’s a person.  He doesn’t use baby talk or made-up words; he speaks to him with dignity and respect.  He waxes rhapsodic like Mr. Bones is his oldest friend…because he is.  And Willy talks incessantly.  So this dog knows quite a bit about the world, which comes in handy because as the novel opens, Mr. Bones and his transient owner are walking through Baltimore on a mission before Willy’s awful cough sets him down for good.

Paul Auster has pulled off quite a feat in this short novel.  He has written a clever, self-aware animal that at no time takes you out of the story.  Reading a dog’s narration of dream-like visions carries with it the possibility of causing you to stop and chuckle at the absurdity.  But nothing in this book feels absurd.  Mr. Bones is likable and feels real.  Of course, his inner monologue is a bit more sophisticated than I assume my dog’s is but there are sly touches that remind you that this character isn’t a person and thus interprets our world differently.  The most endearing thing, to me at least, is how Mr. Bones knows that Willy is a screw-up but he’s still loyally devoted to him every step of the way.  None of Willy’s mistakes give his friend pause.  Mr. Bones loves Willy unconditionally and that’s the most important trait to get across in a dog.

If you like this book, you might also enjoy The New York Trilogy also by Paul Auster, available from the Virginia Beach Public Library.

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