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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Funeral for a Dog

Thomas Pletzinger

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To purchase Funeral for a Dog

Title: Funeral for a Dog
Author: Thomas Pletzinger
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 322 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Funeral for a Dog - US
Funeral for a Dog - UK
Funeral for a Dog - Canada
Funeral for a Dog - India
Bestattung eines Hundes - Deutschland
  • German title: Bestattung eines Hundes
  • Translated by Ross Benjamin

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Our Assessment:

B : artfully (if all-too-obviously-)constructed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 12/3/2008 Richard Kämmerlings
The National B 1/4/2011 Scott Esposito
The NY Times Book Rev. A 27/3/2011 Leland de la Durantaye
The New Yorker . 23/5/2011 .
Die Welt . 3/5/2008 Paul Pietraß
Die Zeit . 13/3/2008 Daniel Beskos

  Review Consensus:

  Carefully and well constructed; an impressive debut

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wie Pletzinger diese Geschichte nun erzählt, ist virtuos. (...) Thomas Pletzinger erzählt direkt und schnörkellos, er hat eine zupackende und unverkrampfte Sprache für alles Körperliche und Sinnliche, gerade auch das Sexuelle, ohne dabei ins Posenhafte oder gar Prahlerische zu geraten. Zugleich legt der Roman ganz offen Fährten ins Intertexuelle (.....) Thomas Pletzingers Roman ist auch so ein nahezu perfektes Debüt, intelligent, spannend, berührend, in einem Wort: Geistesgegenwartsliteratur." - Richard Kämmerlings, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Pletzinger makes good use of what might be called narrative metonymy to tease out provocative connections between his two oddly similar men. (...) Funeral for a Dog is a very accomplished first novel, but it does have problems. Mandelkern's charmingly inept blunders make for fine entertainment, yet his perpetual lack of agency can grow exasperating. (...) Moreover, there is too much unevenness to the novel's many subplots. While Pletzinger can surely tell a tale (...) too many of his stories never really go anywhere. (...) Despite the missteps this is a highly auspicious debut." - Scott Esposito, The National

  • "Funeral for a Dog is full of strangeness, but it is not satirical strangeness or magical strangeness. It is, instead, realistic, and its main theme is the strangeness of loss. (...) (T)he book has known such success not because it is in any clear literary lineage, nor because it discusses extreme states and epochal events, but simply because it is brilliantly constructed and finely written. The novel's greatest success is its intricacy of plot -- an intricacy that is revealed only gradually." - Leland de la Durantaye, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Das alles gelingt dem jungen Pletzinger, nach erster Verwirrung, sehr schlüssig und spannend. Die allmähliche Freigabe ersehnter Information ist schlicht delikat und eines Krimis würdig. Aber das griffe zu kurz. Bestattung eines Hundes ist mehr als die Klärung eines Todesfalles unter Freunden. Es ist der gelungene Versuch, die Lebenstotalität zweier Männer aufscheinen zu lassen, in dem, was sie selbst darüber schreiben." - Paul Pietraß, Die Welt

  • "In Bestattung eines Hundes entfaltet Thomas Pletzinger seinen ganz eigenen Schreibstil, der nicht zuletzt von den typografischen Einschüben lebt (.....) Dass eine so intensive Auseinandersetzung mit den Phänomenen der Beobachtung und der Reflexion zu einem faszinierenden Roman werden kann, zeigt Bestattung eines Hundes auf eindrucksvolle Weise." - Daniel Beskos, Die Zeit

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:

       Funeral for a Dog is narrated by Daniel Mandelkern, who maintains:

I'm actually an ethnologist. In America I'm a cultural anthropologist. I observe people, I collect conversations, I probe hierarchies, I take pictures, I sort texts, I catalogue materials, I assemble my ideas. In England I'm a social anthropologist.
       In fact, his academic career (and his dissertation ...) seem to have tapered off and stalled entirely, and instead he's been reduced to being a journalist -- working under his wife, Elizabeth, no less. He's only in his early thirties, while Elizabeth is several years his senior. She was married before, but tragically lost a child in childbirth; now she's looking to try again -- while Daniel has taken up smoking because: "smokers' sperm don't hold out as long" (i.e. he's not so keen on the whole procreation idea). In fact, their marriage is quite violently on the rocks.
       Daniel's story covers only a few days in August, 2005, when Elizabeth has sent him to interview Dirk Svensson, a suddenly popular and on-the-rise children's book author. Daniel is less than thrilled with the assignment -- "I'm not interested in children's books or their authors, I don't want to write a story about this Svensson" he could (and should) have said, but he took the assignment and set off for Italy, where he promptly and predictably loses himself.
       Svensson wrote The Story of Leo and the Notmuch, which struck a chord because it is apparently honest and moving in telling "a story of loss". Not surprisingly, Funeral for a Dog is also about losses: Elizabeth's baby, and Elizabeth and Daniel's relationship, and relationships in general, among many others; Svensson's life, too, is loss-filled (and, yes, you can guess what that includes from the title).
       Once in Italy Daniel quickly gets caught up in Svensson's life, spirited away to Svensson's out-of-the-way domicile without his luggage or phone (and winding up lingering longer than the original planned quick weekend stay). There are others there, too, as a woman named Tuuli, an old acquaintance of Svensson's, and her son arrive at the same time.
       Daniel has limited success in interviewing Svensson, but he observes and plays along, and learns quite a bit -- including a great deal from a manuscript he discovers, another of Svensson's works, titled Astroland:
I read Astroland through from beginning to end like a child under a blanket. I couldn't stop, even though I was tired, even though the manuscript isn't intended for my eyes (forbidden time, forbidden book). Astroland tells a love-triangle story, two men, a woman and a dog: Svensson, Tuuli and Felxix. The dog is named Lua or Lula. Svensson has apparently tried to find words for the past years (1993-2003). His life story has turned for him into a sort of novel, maybe a roman à clef
       Daniel may have read Astroland "through from beginning to end" in one go, but readers have no such luck: in Funeral for a Dog Daniel's day-by-day narrative alternates with sections from the mystery-manuscript, so that these various life stories -- Daniel and Elizabeth's on the one hand, Svensson, Tuuli, and Felix's (and the dog's) on the other -- are only slowly revealed in a variety of reminiscences, in the manuscript, and in present-day conversation.
       In recounting what is happening to him in Italy, Daniel also reflects on his (and Elizabeth's) past: 'And who exactly is Daniel Mandelkern ?' is the parenthetical question printed beneath the first date-entry, and the entire story, of course, also consists of Daniel turning his life story into a sort of novel (maybe a roman à clef ...).
       The fact/fiction divide is difficult to discern, across the board -- indeed, Tuuli warns Daniel:
Everything Svensson says is made up, Manteli, you can write that, Svensson collects fragments and assembles them into a world he can bear.
       Which sounds a lot like what Daniel claims he does in his ethnologist-guise -- and not surprisingly, Daniel's own account here is presented in fragments, small chunks with their own separate titles, recounting and considering episodes from the present and the past -- until he has fit together a world he can bear .....
       Then there's the fact that part of Svensson's (and Tuuli's) story takes place in New York on 11 September 2001 -- though Svensson notes: "My 9/11 story isn't about this city, I say, not about that day and not about terrorism and colonialism and symbols and consequences". Indeed, this and almost all the stories are very personal ones, and the losses and ruptures here are intimate, personal ones. Of course, that -- or the addition of a three-legged dog -- doesn't necessarily make them compelling ones. Yes, Pletzinger crafts a fine story here, but, god, does it feel crafted .....
       'And who exactly is Daniel Mandelkern ?' may be the opening question -- and it's one he asks himself, too --, but part of the problem is that it's hard to really care: sure, good luck to the guy in sorting out his issues and problems, but as to what he shares ..... He explained that, as a (would-be) ethnologist: "I sort texts, I catalogue materials, I assemble my ideas", and that's what he does in Funeral for a Dog; it's hard to forget , however, that he is also a failed ethnologist, and for all his sorting, cataloging, and assembling this undertaking too is only a limited success (yes, at least he's on the right road to finding himself at the end -- i.e. figuring out who, exactly, Daniel Mandelkern is --, but that's a significantly less satisfying conclusion for the reader than for him). "Stories don't help ! Stop !" Svensson wrote on the cover of his Astroland manuscript, but Daniel (and Pletzinger) apparently still believe in the transformative and healing power of the creative act; that's a tall order for a novel, and Funeral for a Dog doesn't quite pull it off.
       Ultimately, Funeral for a Dog feels much too carefully written -- with much of the attention on all the wrong places. There are some powerful and moving scenes here -- it's not like Pletzinger has wrung all the emotion out of his story -- but as a whole, and in the character of Daniel, it winds up feeling rather flat.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 July 2011

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Funeral for a Dog: Reviews: Thomas Pletzinger: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       German author Thomas Pletzinger was born in 1975.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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