Timbuktu: A Novel, by Paul Auster – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

TimbuktuNovelTimbuktu; A Novel, by Paul Auster.
NYC, Henry Holt and Co., May 1999, hardcover $22.00 (181 pages).

It can be argued that Timbuktu is the opposite of an anthropomorphic novella. It is about a dog, Mr. Bones, whose beloved human companion, the pseudonymous Willy B. Christmas, a homeless East Coast “street poet” is dying. Timbuktu does an excellent job of portraying the despairing thoughts of a mostly unanthropomorphized but exaggeratedly intelligent and loyal dog. He understands “Ingloosh” more than most dogs, but still from a canine viewpoint.

“Mr. Bones knew that Willy wasn’t long for this world. The cough had been inside him for over six months, and by now there wasn’t a chance in hell that he would ever get rid of it. Slowly and inexorably, without once taking a turn for the better, the thing had assumed a life of its own, advancing from a faint, phlegm-filled rattle in the lungs on February third to the wheezy sputum-jigs and gobby convulsions of high summer.” (p. 3)

“What was a poor dog to do? Mr. Bones had been with Willy since his earliest days as a pup, and by now it was next to impossible for him to imagine a world that did not have his master in it. Every thought, every memory, every particle of the earth and air was saturated with Willy’s presence. Habits die hard, and no doubt there’s some truth to the adage about old dogs and new tricks, but it was more than just love or devotion that caused Mr. Bones to dread what was coming. It was pure ontological terror. Subtract Willy from the world, and the odds were that the world itself would cease to exist.” (p. 4)

Willy is aware that he is dying. As he and Mr. Bones wander the streets of Baltimore, Willy tries to prepare the dog for life after him. He rambles to him about “how to avoid the dogcatchers and constables, the paddy wagons and unmarked cars, the hypocrites from the so-called humane societies. No matter how sweetly they talked to you, the word shelter meant trouble.”   Mr. Bones is a sweet but ugly, smelly, adult mongrel. “No one was going to want to rescue him. As the homeless bard was fond of putting it, the outcome was written in stone. Unless Mr. Bones found another master in one quick hurry, he was a pooch primed for oblivion.” (p. 5)

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