Fever of Animals Synopsis :
Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2014
For nearly five years I have wanted to write something about the surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu: about his paintings, one of which hangs in a little restaurant in Melbourne, and about his disappearance, which is still a mystery. But this is probably not going to be the book I imagined. Nothing has quite worked out the way I planned.
With the small inheritance he received upon his father’s death, Miles has come to Europe on the trail of the Romanian surrealist, who disappeared into a forest in 1967. But in trying to unravel the mystery of Bafdescu’s secret life, Miles must also reckon with his own.
Faced with a language and a landscape that remain stubbornly out of reach, and condemned to wait for someone who may never arrive, Miles is haunted by thoughts of his ex-girlfriend, Alice, and the trip they took to Venice that ended their relationship.
Uncanny, occasionally absurd, and utterly original, Fever of Animals is a beautifully written meditation on art and grief.
Fever of Animals is a book about, and of, so many things without ever declaring itself as any of them. Miles Allinson pulls the reader into his web with this seemingly innocuous opening sentence:
Or maybe, after all, it should begin on the plane, mid-air above those squares of damp green pasture as we moved away from London.
Ideas and narrative are fluid, chronology blurred, the question of ‘why’ paramount, and the underlying themes circuitous.
Runners often talk about disappearing, of moving off into nothingness, but I’m not sure that’s what it was for me. It was more like receding into an enormous room behind my eyes, like an animal in its cage — a feverish, muted consciousness — which paces on the other side of the bars, its gaze taking in only momentarily the shapes of the outside world.
We learn of a language now extinct, philosophy and surrealism, and a myriad of other things.
I doubt many people would understand, since coincidences, like dreams, lose their power as soon as you try to talk about them. But this is precisely the reason that surrealism was born in the first place: to find a way to speak, in waking life, of that which in dreams seems so real and which, as Bafdescu wrote, ‘is violated by the powerful, familiar, stupid habits and the complacency that a rational education in ordinary life bestows upon every moment.’
While reading I was a willing captive, mesmerised by the mystery, the search for the historical painter and also the narrator’s identity/purpose, in deep admiration of the artful prose. But for me, it was only after finishing the novel and sleeping on it overnight, that the true artistry became apparent.
I am trying to remember my childhood, but I am afraid that all my memories have been so used up that they no longer resemble memories at all. More like loose change in a foreign currency.
This is a work of fiction, but with a narrative that feels so raw, a reader would be forgiven for forgetting that. I am impressed by Miles Allinson’s magician-like capacity for melding modernity and surrealism.
While Fever of Animals is certainly not a book for everyone — the humour is dark, and the tone melancholic and ostensibly navel-gazing — if considered like you would a piece of art in a gallery, the layers of this oil painting and skill of the painter reveal themselves.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Drama, Romance, Historical
This review counts towards my participation in the 2015 Aussie Author Challenge.
Miles Allinson is a writer and an artist. He was born in Melbourne in 1981, and has a Bachelor of Creative Arts and a Postgraduate Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne, as well as a Masters of Fine Arts (Art in Public Space) from RMIT. Fever of Animals is his first novel, and won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2014. Checkout his website milesallinson.com .
UPDATE: Shortlisted for the 2016 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, Fiction
* My receiving a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.