‘We’ve been here before’ – The Way of the Dog by Sam Savage

Sam Savage’s latest once again concerns an eccentric artistic sort, just as Firmin did, just as Cry of the Sloth did, just as Glass did; and although we spent our review of Glass discerning the subtle differences that existed between that novel’s eccentric artistic sort and the eccentric artistic sorts that preceded it, this time we couldn’t help but feel like we’ve been here before.

Harold Nivenson is a nearly but not quite artist, a hanger-on, a patron of sorts to others, to a.n. other, Peter Meininger, an artist who he revered and collected in youth, an artist he supported, gave room to and then outgrew (or was outgrown, Savage is great at creating spaces you can read between). ‘I thought of us as pals,’ Nivenson writes. ‘It was Meininger the painter and Nivenson the critic and collector.’ But Nivenson has learned he is a dilletante and The Way of the Dog presents postcards from the frontline of that ‘floating, empty life’.

The relationship between Nivenson and Meininger hovers in the background of the tale which unfolds, we are told, as a series of scraps and fragments, little bits and pieces written on card and piled up or left. ‘The fact is, I am thoroughly tired of myself,’ Nivenson writes, ‘of the importunings and plagues of the self, its childish demands and stupid vanities.’ Imagine a Victor Meldrew figure, carping and moaning about his neighbours, about mortality, about how sour life has a tendency to become.

Whilst the difference between this novel and his previous novels is slight, the difference is enough to tip the scales: there is a seeming randomness at work here, a greater sense of rags and patches than previously, a dour unceasing lazy bleakness that makes for a difficult read.

‘Everything I write on my cards, or on my slips of torn paper, is the working out of a physiological impulse (a habit) and has no literary significance.’

Despite trumpeting its sense of redemption on the back cover, the redemption when it comes is fleeting and doesn’t unseat the powerful sense of uselessness Meininger has spent the previous 150 or so pages hammering home.

The Way of the Dog, then, is somewhat disappointing. The disappointment is not of the ‘that’s you and me done, Savage’ variety though. An artist has to follow his creative impulse, wheresoever it takes him or her. There are a number of writers we like (TC Boyle, for example, Douglas Coupland) who have written books that we didn’t like – but we liked the fact that these self-same writers are on a journey as much for themselves as for the reader. Savage is firmly in this camp. We’ll be keenly waiting to see what he does next.

Any Cop?: Not his best imho, but worth a read all the same to keep an eye on the seam this peculiar talent is mining.


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