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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

I'll Sell You a Dog

Juan Pablo Villalobos

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To purchase I'll Sell You a Dog

Title: I'll Sell You a Dog
Author: Juan Pablo Villalobos
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 242 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: I'll Sell You a Dog - US
Te vendo un perro - US
I'll Sell You a Dog - UK
I'll Sell You a Dog - Canada
Les temps perdus - France
Ich verkauf dir einen Hund - Deutschland
Te vendo un perro - España
  • Spanish title: Te vendo un perro
  • Translated by Rosalind Harvey

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable if slightly uneasy comic/literary mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 29/10/2016 Alberto Manguel
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/11/2016 Lili Wright
Publishers Weekly . 6/6/2016 .
The Spectator . 3/9/2016 Andy Miller

  From the Reviews:
  • "Juan Pablo Villalobosís new book is one of the wittiest, most whimsical, most enjoyable novels to have been published in Spanish for a long time. The excellence of Villalobos in this English translation is due of course to the skill of Rosalind Harvey, who has also seamlessly rendered the varieties of Mexican Spanish into different tones of English, preserving their endemic nature without turning the characters into cross-dressed Cockneys or Liverpudlians." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "At times, this slender novel feels like a villanelle. Dogs, roaches, beer, Mexican muralists and credos from Theodor Adorno reappear in shifting incantations. Welcome are the rare moments of sincerity, usually in flashbacks." - Lili Wright, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Villalobos is a kind of miniature Proust, and the affable Iíll Sell You A Dog finds lost time not in grand narratives but in the idle chatter of neighbors." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Itís a bold writer who sets up a comic riff counterpointing the work of Adorno and Proust, one which then develops into a dominant theme: how we mingle memory and art to make sense of our often hap-hazard, pest-ridden lives. (...) Villalobos is fearless in pursuing his characters wherever they take him. (...) The pleasures of this grubby, funny little novel lie in that tangled knot of characters and ideas; but its brilliance lies in how Villalobos unpicks it" - Andy Miller, The Spectator

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:

       I'll Sell You a Dog is narrated by seventy-eight-year-old Teo -- a one-time art student who then pursued a career in taco-selling, with reasonable success (he "reached the height of fame in the eighties", and even the mayor of Mexico City was a regular), who is now living out his days in what is known in the neighborhood as: "the little old people's building" -- not quite an old folks' home (he's worried about being packed off to one of those), but as far as the tenants go, that's what it pretty much amounts to. He moved in a year and a half earlier -- initially warmly welcomed by the other residents as an artist (there's an easel among his belongings) but then denounced as an "Impostor !" when he reveals that he was a mere taco seller.
       The residents -- in particular Francesca, who chairs the Residents' Association and is "dictator" of the literary salon that regularly meets in the lobby -- however won't quite let Teo deny his artistic temperament and identity -- indeed, Francesca insists he is writing a novel (and regularly critiques it). (Of course, he already notes in the book's opening that 'Francesca' "wasn't her real name but the name I'd given he in this so-called novel of mine", setting the tone for the overlap and confusion of fact and fiction to come.) And, yes, I'll Sell You a Dog is in part a novel-about-writing-a-novel -- with the half-hearted twist of the narrator-author pretending/insisting he isn't writing a one at all ..... (Teo's disavowals and attitude -- especially regarding Francesca's critiques -- are admittedly quite amusing, even if ultimately it feels a bit of a hollow joke.)
       I'll Sell You a Dog is divided into two parts, each named after a volume of Teo(doro)'s semi-namesake Adorno -- Aesthetic Theory and Notes to Literature. He does quote and refer to these occasionally, but Villalobos keeps the Adorno-touch very light -- the novel can readily be enjoyed without the least expertise in the Frankfurt School ... -- and the volumes themselves play almost as significant a role as their content, as part of the plot eventually revolves around Teo's copy of Aesthetic Theory going missing and his efforts to get it back (while he also has difficulty getting his hands on the complete Notes to Literature).
       There's a running joke (of sorts ...) about how slow the lift in the building is, and there's the near-constant comic tension of Teo's escalating conflict with the literary salon-members (and their pretensions). There are some semi-colorful other character, including the young Mormon proselytizer who becomes a regular visitor; the vegetable-seller who does good business selling over-the-hill produce in bulk to protesters; and a would-be novelist who wants lessons from Teo. (Teo does offer some excellent writing advice: "Put some empty spaces in ! With any luck your novel will disappear completely !") There's also some reminiscing, about Teo's family and brief short-lived foray into the artistic world, where he briefly rubbed shoulders with a variety of well-known Mexican artists. Among the family anecdotes there are also some dog-tales, and some slightly disturbing -- even with the comic edge -- stories of the demise of various dogs, as well as what happens then (yes, think: tacos ...).
       Villalobos does slyly use Mexican art, history, and politics in the background -- just as with the use of Adorno, brushing it in ever so lightly so that the surface-appearance remains of an almost harmless little old-man-adventure even as there is a bit more depth to it. And I'll Sell You a Dog is also an artist-tale: for all of Teo's claims that he's not one, it's clear the creative spirit won't quite let him go -- though it takes him quite a while to admit and realize it. "I could have been one of them", he says about the artists in whose circles he briefly flittered -- but his path was another one, to taco-selling (which Villalobos mainly glosses over). But as his preoccupation with Aesthetic Theory suggest, he has a hard time really letting go.
       Teo has some decent instincts, too: he pretends not to take the writing advice he's giving out to would-be author Papaya-Head too seriously, but he's got the basics down:

     'Stop there,' I would say, 'your reader has already fallen asleep. Worse, your readers have already died, they died in the nineteenth century ! And I have bad news for you, dead people don't buy books.
       Villalobos' playful approach tries to liven things up (so readers won't fall asleep ...); the blend he comes up with is moderately successful. The story, and Teo, putter along nicely enough, and there's both poignancy -- in the reminiscing, among other parts -- and sharpness. Yet in too many ways it feels like there's more struggling to get out. Teo's insistence that he isn't writing a novel, and his focus on the fairly mundane day-to-day (plus a couple of scenes-from-the-past) seem to serve too readily as an excuse for not really going for the bigger picture(s).
       I'll Sell You a Dog is a fine novel and an enjoyable read, but ultimately not entirely satisfying.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 August 2016

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I'll Sell You a Dog: Reviews: Other books by Juan Pablo Villalobos under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in 1973.

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© 2016-2022 the complete review

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