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Pets [Hardcover]

Bragi Ólafsson , Janice Balfour
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Oct. 15 2008
Seeing his "friend" outside of his house, Emil takes refuge under his bed, hoping Havard will just go away. Instead, he doesn't. He breaks in, starts drinking Emil's book, and ends up hosting a bizarre party for Emil's friends. Dark and hilarious, the breezy style of The Pets belies its depth, and disguises a complexity that increases with each page.

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About the Author

Bragi Ólafsson is most well known for playing in The Sugarcubes. He is the author of several books of poetry, a number of plays, and five novels. His works have been finalists for the Icelandic Literature Prize and Nordic Literature Prize, and he has received the Icelandic Bookseller's Award.

Janice Balfour studied literature and Italian at the University of Iceland. In addition to Bragi Ólafsson, she has translated two collections of short stories by Gydir Elíasson.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre story that sets a hook in the reader. Feb. 27 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Without spoiling anything here for anyone who hasn't read it, I can just say that this is a very entertaining yet bizarre story that just keeps you reading. My only complaint is that the story doesn't really end, leaving the reader to wonder what happens next.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for a quick read Dec 8 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Great little book translated from... Icelandic? Norwegian? Danish? Whatever they speak in Iceland. The author, Bragi Ólafsson, I have since learned was the bassist for the Sugarcubes back in the day. I picked it up at random off the new-release shelf at the library, as is my wont, and tore through its brief 157 pages in a couple days. My random grabs often result in disappointment, but I have stumbled across some gems. A history of failures also has lowered my expectations, so the book doesn't need to be spectacular. This book greatly exceeded any expectations.

The Pets revolves around two fellows, Emil and Havard. Emil has just returned to Iceland from a trip to London when he spots trouble coming to his door in the form of an old acquaintance, Havard. Havard is that guy everyone knows who glides through life in a drunken haze, somehow managing to be just barely productive enough to support a lifestyle of drinking and causing trouble. He was great fun for us when we knew him in our early 20s, but he now represents a serious threat to our current status quo. If this was a Hollywood movie, I suspect Havard would be played by Owen Wilson.

When Emil sees Havard outside, he reacts as many of us would like to do; he hides. As if it was an ID'd call from a creditor. Undaunted by the lack of response, Havard crawls in the kitchen window and Emil commits to the dodge by hiding under his bed. During a tour of the house, Havard answers the phone and, pretending to be Emil, begins inviting Emil's friends over that night for a big party. One of the two major plots is Emil trying to figure out a way to both get rid of Havard and not reveal that he has been hiding under the bed. The second plot is the backstory of Emil and Havard's relationship revealed through flashbacks to London and the tragic hilarity that ensued there.

Ólafsson writes in clean, direct prose, giving vivid and detailed descriptions of what is happening in every scene. His style paints a realistic picture of the surreal action. I read an interview with Ólafsson and, having read the book first, I was surprised at how flippant he was. I think he is a person who takes writing far more seriously than he let on in that interview. When I read it, I didn't get the vibe that the author was at all flippant. The book is clearly the product of a talented, disciplined writer with an offbeat sense of humor. I am glad he made the transition from music to literature and I hope to see more of Bragi Ólafsson's work translated into English.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "There was something about him that gave me the feeling he was in need of shelter." July 18 2011
By Mary Whipple - Published on
"Hilarious" is not a word that immediately comes to mind when thinking of Icelandic writing. Arnaldur Indridasson, the most famous contemporary writer in Iceland, pens mysteries which are among the darkest, gloomiest, and most haunting ever written, the pinnacle of Nordic noir. Life in Iceland can be tough. So when I stumbled across The Pets, I was amazed to see it described as "hilarious"--a book written by a young author who finds humor, even slapstick humor, in life in this cold, dark country. Nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize in 1999, and first translated into English in 2008, The Pets maintains a bright and breezy style which belies the obvious care and attention to detail with which it is written. Olafsson accepts the weather as a given, eliminating it as a factor in creating mood and atmosphere. Nearly all the important scenes take place indoors, and though the writing possesses a humor which is dark by comparison to that of some other cultures, the novel achieves a kind of universality through the absurdities which dominate the action.

Main character Emil Halldorsson has been away in London, celebrating his million-kronur lottery win (about $8500) with a two-week vacation. Upon his return, he learns that someone wearing an anorak with hood has been looking for him, knocking on his door and then peering in the window. Gradually, the reader comes to know Emil, who is not sure if he loves Vigdis, his lover; Armann Valur, a chatty "prospective pensioner," who appears to be hopelessly in need of attention; and Greta, the pretty woman across the aisle on the plane, whom he hopes will visit him. The man in the anorak is Havard Knutsson, who has been away for several years and who has an agenda of his own. Havard has no idea of boundaries and no sense of responsibility. Gradually, the story emerges of Emil's disastrous relationship with Havard when they were "pet-sitting" in London, five years ago, and when Havard comes to Emil's house once again, this time forcing his way in, Emil hides under the bed, while Havard makes himself at home.

Filled with details which illustrate the dreary "ordinariness" of the characters' lives, the reader quickly realizes that Havard's life, in its totality, is far from ordinary. As he makes himself at home in Emil's house with Emil's friends, Emil finds himself trapped, fearing that revealing his presence may be more dangerous than staying hidden. Irony and absurdity work together, creating scenes which are intensely visual, and which would make great theatre. The dialogue is often hilarious as Havard becomes the "perfect host," using supplies Emil has purchased at the duty free shop. The alternation of music between Mahler's piano quartet and Elvis Presley's singing, the constantly ringing doorbell, the telephone ringing, and various cellphone ring tones suggests a broad panorama of visitors connecting with Havard at Emil's expense (literally). The chaos of reality becomes even more absurd as the party progresses without any limits being imposed.

The author's deliberately vague conclusion forces the reader to consider all possibilities, and Emil's continuing failure to confront this intruder suggests that Emil may deserve whatever happens. With the strange Havard acting as the complete opposite of Emil, the reader ultimately wonders who is the responsible person--if anyone--and whether the ghost of Emil, who may be knocking at the front door, may provide a clue. Mary Whipple
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully bizarre Nov. 22 2009
By Dennis - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderfully bizarre story in which the main character makes a quick decision hoping to avoid an awkward momement only to become trapped in an even more awkward situation lasting for hours. It's a truly laugh-out-loud comedy, thoroughly enjoyable.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing... Sept. 26 2012
By V. Bradley - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I started off really wanting to like this. It seemed interesting, set against the backdrop of Iceland. I thought I might get some insight into Icelandic culture/people, but all I did get was a confusing storyline and bland characters. I stuck with it though only to be really disappointed with a very unsatisfying ending that just left a question mark in my head.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of funny Aug. 22 2010
By Campos - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found the first part boring, the rest is kind of funny (not hilarious); I kept reading waiting for the resolution but the author leaves that to the reader's imagination. Ok read for a long plane ride in the winter.

Bragi Olafsson explains the ending this way:

"I had not decided how The Pets was going to end when I started the book, and I think that decision came rather late in the writing process. I had tried two or three different endings but always felt I was betraying myself and the story by not letting it end the way it does. I think it's a good thing when an ending of a book gives the reader the permission to decide for himself what has really been going on in the story and what will happen after he has read the last page."
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