I Hate You, Dan Rhodes (A Timoleon Vieta Come Home Review)

I read Timoleon Vieta Come Home (Dan Rhodes) in the train on the way to Newcastle, also listening to Roxette’s greatest hits album (laugh all you like, I’m secure in my music obsessiveness. For the record, the other albums I listened to on the way were Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights and Extra Yard: The Bouncement Revolution, a Big Dada compilation) at the same time.

I really, really liked the book. It was extremely funny, written in the sort of effortlessly readable prose that I tend to be too indisciplined in my writing to manage, and packed a hell of an emotional wallop while actively resisting cliché. But it left me in bits, and I need someone to blame. Read on.

Timoleon Vieta (a mongrel with beautiful eyes) was trying to find his way home after being abandoned in Rome by his owner (Cockroft, a former pops orchestra conductor, now a sad has-been living in Tuscany), under the influence of a manipulative object of infatuation (a mysterious figure known as the Bosnian). Timoleon Vieta was living on rats and bin scavengings, slinking along barely noticed, his skinny belly close to the ground, tired and hungry and sad, and then Roxette sang “I guess loneliness found a new friend”, and my heart almost broke.

I went on through the book, through instance after instance of how our imaginations eagerly build up hopes for happy and meaningful futures, through the slow agonizing creep of disbelief when those hopes start to be eroded or are destroyed in one fell swoop, through Cockroft’s desperation for some company, any company, that won’t eventually leave him without a backward glance, through Timoleon Vieta’s aching paw pads on his long journey home, and then I came to the ending, where my imagination’s hope for a heartwarming resolution to all this pain was cruelly dashed in exactly the same way it had happened to almost everyone else in the book.

I closed the book and sat back destroyed, watching the countryside race heartlessly past, and then I Don’t Wanna Get Hurt started up.

I hate you, Dan Rhodes. I hate you, Roxette. And I’m not even a dog person.

Gym/Tate Britain/Timoleon Vieta Book Launch

[We are at war. Two of my friends in Singapore have SARS. A dear friend here has suddenly lost his mother. It would be flippant if not downright disrespectful if I started writing about my week without clarifying that behind the breeziness I am actually trying to take all this in my stride.]

Here’s what went into Thursday:

Continuing gym membership saga

My relationship with my gym membership got even more complicated on Thursday morning. I arrived at the gym too late to go into the Pilates class I’d been aiming for. This was far from devastating, and I was all ready to go cheerily and sweatlessly back to my comfy flat and sprawl on the couch with English Passengers (so good) and tea, but then the girl at reception suggested I use the gym instead. I laughed this off, explaining I’d never used one before. “Oh, but we can book you in for a free induction!” she trilled brightly, and unable to think up another excuse fast enough, I had to reluctantly agree. Friends, I feel myself slowly losing the battle against fitness. What is to be done?

Conversation, culture and closeness

The afternoon was a lesson in how to have a wonderful time in London with very little money. All you need is a beautiful day, a Marks & Spencer’s pasta lunch, a bench outside the Tate Britain, and a best friend you haven’t seen in a long time. At about 3 we decided we should probably fulfil the original purpose of the outing and actually enter the museum, which was a good call given that without some discipline we would have been entirely capable of obliviously talking the afternoon away till the museum closed at 6.

The quantity and range of art you can see for free in London museums never fails to overwhelm me, and this museum is no exception. We’d had a vague plan of seeing some Turner, Days Like These (a triennial exhibition of contemporary British art), and Constable to Delacroix: British Art And The French Romantics, but could only manage the first two in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed Days Like These – I found almost every exhibit visually and conceptually interesting (which doesn’t always happen for me and modern art) and came out with an impressively low number of I-don’t-get-its. The latter comment would perhaps attract sneers from some arty types, but getting it, or at least having some vague sort of clue, is what makes modern art worthwhile for me.

Book launch, dah-ling

It was for a new book by Dan Rhodes, writer of Anthropology (one of my favourite books), and pleasant email surprise every now and then ever since he found this site one day.

Dinner beforehand was the terrible mistake of Ken Hom’s Yellow River Cafe, where I had some of the worst Oriental food I’ve had in this country since I once tried a Budgens chicken in black bean sauce ready meal, but execrable food was soon forgotten when we got to the venue for the book launch and found there was a free bar. I was, however, hoping not to meet Dan in person for the first time by telling him how fanchashtic it wash to vinally meech him, and so I was only delicately sipping at my Smirnoff Ice when Roxette’s Fading Like A Flower filled the room. (At this point I should probably explain that apart from the fact that he wrote a book I like very much, the other connection revealed by our email exchanges was a common love for Roxette and other very uncool pop music.) So I was hopping around telling Alec how much I loved the song, and Alec was trying to look as if he wasn’t with me, and then Dan came over and said hello, he’d seen my face light up at the Roxette, and was I Michelle?

I managed to avoid any embarrassing conversational gaffes, the reading was hilarious and ended with Dan sucking on some helium and leading us all in a rousing nasal sing-a-long to I Want To Know What Love Is, so an evening well spent, I think. Of course, I left with a signed copy of his new book, Timeleon Vieta Come Home, which you must all go and buy too.