Quill & Quire
Celebrated English abstract painter and writer Wyndham Lewis once described Second World War Toronto as a “sanctimonious icebox.” In the acknowledgements for Goya’s Dog
, Damian Tarnopolsky cites Lewis as an inspiration for his first novel. In London, Edward Dacres takes advantage of a case of mistaken identity and joins a tour of artists and poets who have been dispatched to bring culture to the colonies just as war breaks out in Europe. Tempted by a brass magnate’s assertion that Toronto holds many opportunities for a portrait painter, and assuming that his Englishness will lead to commissions there, Dacres jumps off a moving train on its way to Windsor and settles in Ontario’s capital city. Simply put, Dacres is a jerk. He seethes with contempt for almost everyone. As success eludes him and he spirals downward, a chance encounter with the brass magnate’s daughter, Darly Burner, pierces his armour of bravado and self-destruction. Tarnopolsky displays great command over Dacres’s character, slowly revealing the tragedy that turned him into a misanthrope even while dramatizing the ways in which he alienates the people who cross paths with him, from the hotelier at the King Edward Hotel to the working-class Polish immigrants who befriend him when he is homeless. The novel suffers from the occasional misstep. The coincidences are too tidy, especially in the scene in which Dacres is physically carried out of another hotel only to be accosted by Darly, his saviour-in-waiting, who is a little like a fantasy figure, all “young and bright and overflowing.” Despite these occasional lapses, Goya’s Dog
is a compelling story of an artist at war with himself. And notwithstanding its central character’s misanthropy throughout most of the novel, the story ends on a hopeful note, as if possibility, the ballast of the New World, were finally able to make its mark after all.
“Sarcastic, self-destructive, yet strangely endearing, Edward Dacres is the best kind of anti-hero—the kind you can't forget. Who'd have thought a book about art and Toronto would be a page-turner? And yet it is, as we watch, riveted, to see if Dacres is going to fail or succeed. In crystaline prose, and with affectionate satire, Tarnopolsky deftly leads the reader forward, and twists this tale of a down-and-out British painter into a glorious celebration of life's simpler beauties.” - Miguel Syjuco, Author of Ilustrado
"Damian Tarnopolsky's style is essentially witty: it combines observation and action in a way that is so elegant, so articulate and yet light of touch that one is hardly aware of its complexity. And he has made a book about a troubled person and a particularly turbulent place in history, a book about Canada as seen by an Englishman, a book about art and war and desire, that is both funny and sad." - Russell Smith