I read (and finished) Yellow Dog before I looked up any reviews of it online. A few days ago, when I surfed the web, I found out how much I should have hated this book. Well, I didn’t.
It seems that Yellow Dog, published in 2003, met with very negative reviews; chief among them Tibor Fischer’s excoriation of the novel in the Telegraph (entitled “Someone should have a word with Amis.” The review goes downhill from there.)
Sure, this book has some flaws but none of them are fatal. The book is overlong and could use a little bit of tightening up–particularly the passages on the pornography industry. Amis’s fondness for slang and jargon often forces the reader to parse sentences like a biblical scholar. Some folk may find the subject matter distasteful.
The book is a series of inter-twined plots; some which have more to do with one another than others. The first plot which unfolds, and the strongest one, deals with a London author and celebrity Xan Meo. Xan is hit on the head by assailants one night at the pub and Xan’s recovery from the brain injury has some interesting and realistic side effects.
A secondary plot deals with tabloid reporter Clint Smoker, who has no trouble trashing other people’s lives in print, while his own life is quite a mess. The hypocrisy of someone who has the power to destroy you in the newspaper, while suffering similar human foibles raises the question of public verses private lives. Smoker’s section of the novel is perhaps the funniest–lots of puns, especially Clint’s texting with a mysterious ‘k8′ –Kate.
A third plot portrays a fictitious Royal Family who has encountered scandal. King Henry the Ninth is on the throne. A voyeuristic video of his daughter, the underage Princess Victoria, in the bath is being shuffled round various media outlets. The person who filmed the video is unknown as is the reason for its potential release.
Other plots and sub-plots include: a corpse riding in the baggage compartment of a commercial jet, a pornographic actress with family issues, an expatriate British gangster, and a comet that is about to hit earth.
Perhaps the critics didn’t like the multiplicity of plots but to me that seemed very much the point. In our postmodern culture, where everything is at the speed of broadband– fast, dynamic, visual, Amis explodes the idea that we’re any less connected than we were 20 or 30 years ago. The same issues of family dysfunction are with us as they were with our parents’ generation. The Internet and ipods haven’t changed that. Amis is reiterating the idea that we are of one human family, like it or not. And we can’t excuse ourselves from our moral and cultural obligations.
Additionally, Amis writes with flair. The sentences pop and sparkle. Combine this with a realistically felt portrayal of the dynamics of the human condition–family betrayal, lust, aging, disappointment and you have Yellow Dog.
Music to listen to while reading Yellow Dog: Suede, Coming Up. (Recently re-issued, too!)