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Tale Of The Dog [Paperback]

Lars Gustafsson , Tom Geddes
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 1 1999
Fiction. The subtitle in Lar's Gustafsson's newest novel refers to one Erwin Caldwell, a Texas judge, who leads the reader through a wildly discursive romp that is also a meditation on the abiding presence of evil in the human heart. This roman noir involves a death by drowning of a Belgian philosopher-semanticist and an appearance by Douglas Melvin Smith, "The Most Intelligent Man in America". Lars Gustafsson is one of Sweden's leading men of letters. New Directions has published six of his novels, most recently A TILER'S AFTERNOON. This translation is by Tom Geddes.

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From Publishers Weekly

In the first of the 31 terse, cerebral chapters of Swedish writer Gustafsson's 1993 roman noir, Texan federal judge Erwin Caldwell watches the 16mm footage from the film of his birth in order to confirm that he in fact exists. His philosophical and moral inquiry is prompted by the sudden, suspect death of his one-time spiritual adviser and revered professor of semantics, Jan van de Rouwers. The latter's demise reveals?traumatically for the Jewish Caldwell?his past as a Nazi collaborator in WWII Holland. Caldwell, whose psychic breakdown Gustofsson narrates in cool and tidy prose, begins to dig into his own past after he confesses to the district attorney that he's responsible for a brutal unsolved murder. Through journal entries and correspondence with a college friend, Caldwell traces the murderous impulse that caused him first to beat a stray dog to death, and eventually to kill another human being. Meanwhile, his wife of three decades is overweight and drinks too much, and Caldwell finds relief for his pent-up rage in an affair with the 30ish owner of a campus bookshop whose possibly mad husband has disappeared while on a search for God. The unease fostered by Gustofsson's disjointed style becomes more palpable as this provoking, if occasionally dry and disjointed, novel nears its bleak end. The pellucid, pliant translation is, however, somewhat marred by jarring Britishisms.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Lars Gustafsson has an uncompromising vision of the utter complexity of modern life ... He loves to play with possibilities and solutions in a manner that is refreshingly affirmative." -- Eric O. Johannesson, The New York Times Book Review

The Tale of a Dog is a compelling roman noir - an intellectual murder mystery cum philosophical discourse that looks back to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. ... Gustafsson taps a rich vein of comedy in the series of contrasts here engendered between the mundane and the high-flown as reported in the judge's fanciful narrative. -- Translation Review, July 1999

Gustafsson is to be admired for his refusal to go for any easy answers... -- The Complete Review

[A]n intellectual mystery and a philosophical discourse that looks back to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Great Metaphysical question about the reality of Good and Evil, proofs of the existence of God, human intelligence, and comedy are all intertwined with the resolution of a murder--or was it suicide? Highly recommended! -- The Bookwatch, April 1999

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting experiment Aug. 8 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I can't speak to the quality of the English translation, having only read the original. Gustafsson demonstrates his usual idiosyncratic reflection of reality in the setting of the book--some details are dead on, others are vague, still others are changed in ways that probably wouldn't matter to a European audience but are weird to annoying to one familiar with the city and time period in question. Reading about one's home town in Swedish is an enjoyably bizarre experience--I can't say I was as taken with the actual underlying story, which involves a lot of philosophizing about good, evil, and the existence of God which just does not feel particularly relevant. Part of the problem, from my perspective, may be that the book really contains only one major character, the narrator, and he is clearly keeping things from us. With a couple of college philosophy courses and a jug of red wine, you could probably discuss this book all night, but on the whole I think "Bernard Foy's Third Castling" is a better example of Gustafsson's current period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gustafsson Succeeds Again Oct. 29 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Lars Gustafsson is an author with the rare ability to distill insightful philosophical explorations from stories of everyday life. In Tale of a Dog, he weaves a riveting hodgepodge tapestry of good and evil as seen through the eyes of an Austin bankruptcy judge. The stories of Austin personalities ring true to those familiar with the quirkiness of the Austin scene, where everyone is a student of something. Gustafsson, typically, steps into the shoes of the outsider, the pretender. He is a Texan who doesn't like Tex-Mex; a Judge who cannot decide; a member of the social elite who prefers the company of his road-hard hairdresser. The fun is in Gustafsson's ability to show us the world from the outside and turn the small things large. The meat is in Gustafsson's ability to draw us to his characters' world of profound moral ambiguity. This is a very good book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars rubbish, severely flawed Sept. 4 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
It is bad enough for a Swede to portray a culture (Texas) that he does not understand. However, to have this book translated into British, not American, makes the portrayal all the more bizarre. I've enjoyed Gustaffson before in German translation, and on safe, European, subjects. He jes duss'nt unnerstan' Texiz.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gustafsson Succeeds Again Oct. 29 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Lars Gustafsson is an author with the rare ability to distill insightful philosophical explorations from stories of everyday life. In Tale of a Dog, he weaves a riveting hodgepodge tapestry of good and evil as seen through the eyes of an Austin bankruptcy judge. The stories of Austin personalities ring true to those familiar with the quirkiness of the Austin scene, where everyone is a student of something. Gustafsson, typically, steps into the shoes of the outsider, the pretender. He is a Texan who doesn't like Tex-Mex; a Judge who cannot decide; a member of the social elite who prefers the company of his road-hard hairdresser. The fun is in Gustafsson's ability to show us the world from the outside and turn the small things large. The meat is in Gustafsson's ability to draw us to his characters' world of profound moral ambiguity. This is a very good book.
4.0 out of 5 stars Near Miss Dec 30 2008
By JMack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In the early chapters of this book, the plot and the direction of the book seemed to suggest that Gustafsson was on the cusp of a great novel. Then, something weird happened. Gustafsson forgot to tell the story and went on an existential tangent to seek the meaning of life. While the plot was not completely lost, it certainly lacked any sense of resolution.

Bankruptcy Judge Erwin Caldwell is shocked to learn of the mysterious death of a respected university professor. In seems the morals taught by the professor were hypocritical in view of his Nazi sympathies early in his life. Accompanied by the annoying genius Douglas Melvin Smith, a lonely bookstore owner, a nihilistic daughter, and a morally superior grandson, Caldwell searches for answers to questions he can not answer. Yet somehow, it all seems to keep coming back to the dog and the dustbin. The dog is the moral pin that seems to be holding Caldwell's entire universe together.

The English translation shows impecable word choice, though Gustafsson may not be responsible for this. Reading this book, I did feel that something must have been lost in the translation because the book feels incomplete.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting experiment Aug. 8 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can't speak to the quality of the English translation, having only read the original. Gustafsson demonstrates his usual idiosyncratic reflection of reality in the setting of the book--some details are dead on, others are vague, still others are changed in ways that probably wouldn't matter to a European audience but are weird to annoying to one familiar with the city and time period in question. Reading about one's home town in Swedish is an enjoyably bizarre experience--I can't say I was as taken with the actual underlying story, which involves a lot of philosophizing about good, evil, and the existence of God which just does not feel particularly relevant. Part of the problem, from my perspective, may be that the book really contains only one major character, the narrator, and he is clearly keeping things from us. With a couple of college philosophy courses and a jug of red wine, you could probably discuss this book all night, but on the whole I think "Bernard Foy's Third Castling" is a better example of Gustafsson's current period.
1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars rubbish, severely flawed Sept. 4 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is bad enough for a Swede to portray a culture (Texas) that he does not understand. However, to have this book translated into British, not American, makes the portrayal all the more bizarre. I've enjoyed Gustaffson before in German translation, and on safe, European, subjects. He jes duss'nt unnerstan' Texiz.
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