Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow
10€ 224 page pocket book
Currently on the longlist for the Dublin Literary Prize
One of the funniest novels you are likely to read, which you will particularly appreciate if you have the perverse nature of a Beckett lover, or have come across David Vardeman’s books, Bedraggling Grandma is a book of precision taken to torturous limits of hilarity. Sure a woman has been murdered and the eye witness is a talking, thinking, reading stuffed donkey, but it is not entirely absurd, for it suggests a number of human truths like a short electric cut through Wittgenstein, who plays a role in the novel that begins with the sheer absurd and ends with a more elevated absurd, you odd and Cartesian human reader.
A book that can be read in one sitting, it is also a book that you will read at least three times if you do race through it in a sitting. Perhaps you should read it standing. Standing and leaning? Well, that would allow some leg flexing, yes. But isn’t your concentration sharper if you are sitting? And though your legs stretch less, is the trade-off between less stretching worth it for the rest they have in not supporting your body? And which is better for your head? Sitting, as you can rest your face in your hands? Or standing, which allows better back to head stretching? What if someone enters the room? Why did they? Did they intend to interrupt your reading of Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow? If not, why did they interrupt your reading of Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow? For they did, indeed, interrupt your reading of Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow. Would they have felt less free to do so if you were standing? Does sitting invite interruption?
These are questions you will not think to ask until after you realized that you have been slyly taught how to think by this Portuguese master of humor, philosophy, and imagination, Joao Reis.
There is a diacritical mark above the a in Joao much like the Spanish one we use for manana, which is the soonest I will add it to this description.
review by David Vardeman
Reis’s flawlessly flatly wry novel uses that most popular and artificial genre, the police procedural, as a point of departure without heaping contempt on it, strangely enough, considering the degree to which his characters torture their faculties in grasping at uncertain certainties. For instance, the extended interrogation of Didier H. is a remarkable delight and alone worth the price of admission, though the whole does not fall below that level. I frankly covet this writer and his virtuosity and told a writer friend so as I was making my way through the novel. There is something remarkably gentle and gentlemanly about Reis’s use of the absurd. How he manages this, I can’t quite say. Perhaps the writer who can render a plush mechanical donkey (Bruce) of such innate charm and politeness as to put the crude and cruel human beings around him to shame can’t help but ennoble whatever he touches. As masterfully as Reis employs the absurd, he is capable of sudden but not jarring turns toward tenderness, as with the curiously heartbreaking image of an old Russian grandma, pelted by Canadian snow, being asked by her grandson, who considers this all just fun, to compare that snow beating her to the Russian snow of her former life.
This novel is a perfect example of the negative capability described by Keats that would absolutely kill the police procedural from which it spins its web: it accepts the existence of “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”