This short book is a collaborative effort between Max Neumann, a German painter, and László Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian writer. It began when Krasznahorkai saw a Neumann painting and wrote a short text in response to it. Neumann then created thirteen additional images, and for each Krasznahorkai wrote another text. Both the images and the texts are thematically related, though there is no overarching plot or tale in a conventional sense.
All the paintings feature one or more hound-like beasts in stark silhouette, most seemingly lunging forward (but without forelegs to land on) or on their hindquarters seemingly howling. They collectively evoke a primal animalism. Krasznahorkai construes and concentrates that animalism into a feral, malevolent, vengeful, and vicious brew. It is a vision of the world akin to that of the Book of Revelations. The writing consists of short phrases strung together into long, internally repetitious, clangorous sentences. Here is an excerpt:
"* * * my little master, give me my little food-dish here, give me my dinner here, and I ask you kindly, don't do this again to me, and every evening when it's dinner time give me my little food-dish here, and put into it, I ask you kindly, my dinner, because when it is dinner-time I have to eat dinner, and it has to be like that every day and every week and every month and every year, until the point when I'm all grown up and then your little food-dish won't be needed any more, because then I will rip away your ears, because then I will tear off your nose, because then I will burn out your eyes, and I will bite your chin apart, I will slash your whole head to bits then and every year I will devour a virgin from Athens, and from that point on your dinner won't be needed any more."
Krasznahorkai is much admired by some aficionados of contemporary European literature. His first novel to be translated into English, "The Melancholy of Resistance," was praised by, among others, W.G. Sebald and Susan Sontag. Perhaps ANIMALINSIDE is an aberration, then, but to me it is little more than dreck. (Colm Tóibín, who wrote a laudatory introduction, obviously disagrees.) The second star is due to Neumann's paintings and the overall quality of production of this limited edition.
* * * * *
Addendum, dated 4 July 2011: My review is attracting "not helpful" votes. I would like to know why. Anonymously voting "not helpful" is both facile and, well, not helpful. A part of me can't help but view the negative votes as knee-jerk reactions from those for whom Krasznahorkai is some sort of literary god and, hence, any critical comment is blasphemy. Please prove otherwise. If you think my review is not helpful, by all means register your displeasure, but please also tell me why in a comment. Let's have some dialogue, and just maybe you will enlighten me.