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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Pets

Bragi Ólafsson

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To purchase The Pets

Title: The Pets
Author: Bragi Ólafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: The Pets - US
The Pets - UK
The Pets - Canada
The Pets - India
Les animaux de compagnie - France
Die Haustiere - Deutschland
  • Icelandic title: Gæludýrin
  • Translated by Janice Balfour

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing tale of some of the perils of avoidance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Believer . 2/2009 Lara Tupper
NZZ A 20/5/2006 Marion Löhndorf

  From the Reviews:
  • "In a few ways, The Pets parallels Paul Austerís City of Glass, which Ólafsson translated into Icelandic. Both focus on chance meetings; both feature a linguist. Austerís interest in possessions, or loss of possessions, seems influential as well" - Lara Tupper, The Believer

  • "Die eigentliche Leistung dieses Romans liegt im Raffinement, mit der Ólafsson es fertigbringt, die Merkwürdigkeiten seiner Story als das Normalste der Welt verkaufen. (...) Wie selbstbestimmt leben wir ?, fragt der Roman, aber auch: Wie fremdbestimmt ? (...) Bragi Ólafsson betrachtet Emils Tragödie mit komödiantischem Blick, witzig, pointiert und mehr als ein bisschen grotesk. Ein kleines Meisterwerk." - Marion Löhndorf, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Pets tells the parallel and overlapping stories of Emil and Havard, as Havard goes to visit Emil, and Emil, just returned from a trip to London, ducks under his bed to avoid him. Most of the novel is narrated by Emil, who describes his flight back from London -- with a talkative passenger, Armann, whose glasses he mistakenly pockets next to him, as well as a girl from his past, Greta, whom he casually hits on after they arrive (despite having a girlfriend who is waiting to hear from him) -- and then what he observes and hears from under his bed.
       Emil has had a bit of good fortune, which allowed for the trip to London, but as the annoyance that is Armann proves, it's not easy to proceed comfortably and untroubled through life: petty annoyances seem to crop up everywhere. Emil's laid-back approach to things probably doesn't help; certainly, attempts at complete avoidance -- diving under the bed when he realises who is at the door -- don't.
       Havard's background is revealed piecemeal, first in how he approaches Emil on this day -- he seems to have come into a bit of money as well, for one -- and then in the nature of their relationship. They haven't seen one another in some five years, and Emil certainly had no desire to cross his path again. Havard's the type of guy who:

didn't seem to be interested in anything, unless it was forbidden or contained the highest percentages of alcohol.
       And this is the near-psychopath who has now made himself comfortable in Emil's home, while Emil waits under the bed, hoping he'll go away. No such luck of course: Havard is glad to consume Emil's booze, answer his phone, and invite people over. Soon the gang's all here, and Emil is still under the bed.
       Along the way Emil fills in some of the details of how he knows Havard, and what happened the last time they were together -- house-sitting in London, as it happens, when in an ill-considered moment Emil invited this man he barely knew along. Let's say: it did not work out well (and, yes, that includes the pets of the title, which they were supposed to take care of).
       The Pets is basically the simple, comic story of the snowballing consequences of not putting one's foot down soon enough. The last time around Emil finally paid Havard off (but not before it was way, way too late); this time he's stuck looking for a way out of this hole he's dug himself into. "The only reason I don't do anything is because it is too late", Emil says as the day wears on, but it's basically too late right from the start.
       While much of the novel does come from the under-the-bed perspective, Bragi opens things up as well with incidental background, scenes from London, as well as how Havard and Emil get to Emil's house, and the narrative moves comfortably back and forth between these different areas.
       With the two trains of light tension -- how will Emil manage under the bed ? and: what terrible things did Havard get up to in London ? -- nicely stretched and dosed out, and written in an agreeable style, The Pets is an enjoyable entertainment.

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The Pets: Reviews: Bragi Ólafsson: Other books by Bragi Ólafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Bragi Ólafsson was born in 1962. He played bass for The Sugarcubes.

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© 2008-2019 the complete review

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