Pets Hardcover – Jul 1 2009
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"Delightfully funny and unexpectedly complex, The Pets introduces American readers to a fresh voice and perspective..."Larissa Kyzer, The L Magazine
"The best short novel I've read this year ... Small, dark, and hard to put down, The Pets may be a classic in the literature of small enclosed spaces a distinguished genre that includes "The Metamorphosis," No Exit, and a fair amount of Beckett."Barnes and Noble Review
"The Narrator ... is intelligent, often witty, a bit wounded ... in a word sympathetic. Overall, the book glitters and gleams, a clear, laughing glacial stream."Sean Lovelace, New Pages
"The indispensable Rochester publisher Open Letter released Bragi’s first novel rendered into English, "The Pets," translated beautifully by Janice Balfour, in October of last year ... if you were building an argument for the true rock novel being as unselfconscious about rock as possible, "The Pets" could be Exhibit A. More than most fiction that concerns itself with music, Bragi's novel captures the dark side of rock -- paranoia, fear, self-doubt and the cowardice that's sometimes, maybe often, the flip side of rock-star braggadocio."Michael Schaub, Los Angeles Times
"Eminently readable, The Pets disguises some really interesting sociological questions in a clean, conversational prose style that is, at first glance, deceptively simple."Aaron Cance, Fiction Writers Review
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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.
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
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."