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.
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
Photograph by Bokmässan