Best of Young Brazilian Novelist Michel Laub discusses his story ‘Animals’ – described by Adam Thirlwell in his introduction below as ‘very delicate and very brutal’ – with Ted Hodgkinson on the Granta Podcast.
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists
Michel Laub was born in Porto Alegre and currently lives in São Paulo. He is a journalist and the author of five novels. His latest book, Diário da queda (2011), received the Brasília Award, the Bravo!/ Bradesco Prize and the Erico Verissimo Award. It is being translated into Dutch, French, German and Spanish, and is forthcoming in English in the UK. ‘Animals’ (‘Animais’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Michel Laub is introduced by previous Best of Young British Novelist, Adam Thirlwell.
There’s no doubt that the international reader is always an insecure, worried reader, like some supine hysteric on a couch. I mean, I know nothing of the language in which this story called ‘Animals’ was written. Or also I do not know where precisely Porto Alegre is – where this story by Michel Laub begins. It does make, I’m just saying, a reader anxious. I have to assume that it’s Brazil. And yet also I think it’s possible in some bronco way not to care about these ethical problems and instead just attend to what’s right there.
So this story looks like a list of the animals that the novelist-narrator’s owned throughout his life, but really this list is therefore a pretext for a miniature autobiography and yet, really, to redescribe it one final time, this autobiography is a pretext for defining a life in one particular way: as a systematic process of loss. And this is moving, no question, but the thing I really love about this story is how it manages its matryoshka feat – to be at once a free floating meditation, leaping like some street cat from wall to wall, while also going deeper and deeper into a single theme.
Because the beauty of this story – and this beauty survives whatever anxieties its translator, Margaret Jull Costa, may have worried over to produce this very careful and very organized piece of English prose, just as it survives the anxieties in the present moment of its international reader – is the story’s agile movement. Its digressions are in fact progressions into its poignancy, so that the loss that this story sounds can be measured precisely by the giant ground that has to be covered in its twenty four meticulous paragraphs just to move the reader and the narrator a couple of hours further on from the story’s startling opening.
It’s very delicate and very brutal, this story. It makes me want to read everything Michel Laub has written. It also makes me want to learn another language. –
Adam Thirlwell, Best of Young British Novelist, 2003
When I was eleven years old and living in Porto Alegre, my dog Champion was killed by our neighbour’s Dobermann.
Our neighbour was a Korean, the owner of a biscuit factory, and his house was subsequently demolished to make way for an apartment block. The same thing happened to our house and to the whole neighbourhood, which had a lot of empty building plots and broad pavements you could skateboard along.
The maid usually took Champion for his walks. On the day he died, he was sniffing around in a bush and, when the maid wasn’t looking, he managed to slip out of his collar, run off and stick his nose through the railings surrounding the Korean’s garden. The girl had worked for us for one or two years, but after that I never saw her again, and from the age of eleven until now I have never owned another dog. The only other pets I had were a hamster, a duck, a cat and a second cat.
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.