The Pets

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Bragi Olafsson is proving to be one of the premier comic novelists of our time. In The Ambassador (reviewed in Lively Arts in 2013), Olafsson satirized the literary world with his story of an Icelandic “poet/janitor/alcoholic” who is invited to read at a poetry festival in Lithuania, only to spend most of his time there drinking, fornicating and plagiarizing.

Now Olfafsson (and his translator Janice Balfour) return with THE PETS, a novel about Emil S. Halldorsson, another Icelandic anti-hero. On his way back to Reykjavik after a stay in London, Emil finds himself seated next to Armann Valur, a countryman who proceeds to talk his ear off in Ancient Mariner fashion. When Armann drinks himself to sleep, Emil is finally able to turn to the passenger on his left, a beautiful blonde named Greta.

He and Greta have some things in common; both are divorced with small children and live not far from each other in Reykjavik. They make a date to meet later that night at his place. Emil’s anticipatory happiness evaporates when he gets home and learns that an old friend of his, Havard Knutsson, has been asking for him. A drunken lout, Havard has evidently escaped from the mental institution where he was supposed to spend the next five years. Emil pretends not to be home when Havard rings his doorbell, but the ruse backfires when the latter sneaks into the apartment through an open window.

Thinking that Havard will depart when he doesn’t find him on the premises, Emil crawls under a bed and stays there while Havard proceeds to make himself at home. Not only does he scarf down lashings of food and drink, he invites everyone who happens to phone (including Armann and Greta) to come by and join the party he is organizing.
Poor Emil, stuck in an existential trap of his own making, can only lie there while the world goes to hell all around him, led by Havard with his outrageous drinking and roistering.

The farcical happenings in THE PETS are described in a deadpan way by the author. The technique works well: by not trying too hard to coax laughs, Olafsson simply allows the action to create the humor. (