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Review: Lina Wolff, Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs

In the end, we learn that Araceli Villalobos is tasked to write an obituary for the semi-reclusive writer, and feminist fairy godmother-like figure, Alba Cambó. I think knowing that going into Lina Wolff’s debut novel Bret Easton Ellis And The Other Dogs will help discern how an, at times, structurally disparate narrative arc comes together to form its whole.

With that end result as perhaps its narrative aim, then we see the parts that come before as vignettes of a life of a woman who refuses to live her life, and by extension refuses to allow other women to live their lives, against constraints of their gender told through an inquisitive, young Villalobos. Alba Cambó is our fixed point throughout these narratives: one of how Villalobos and her best friend get involved in sex work through an encounter with a timber trader; a short story penned by Cambó about Lucifer, a schoolgirl, who falls in love with a lonely priest; an impermeable French teacher who is a source of fascination for her students; and a feminist academic who visits a brothel where, we’re told, “There are only women here, and no bitches.” The academic teaches the women about the power of language.

And what could be more powerful, more subversive an act by female voices than these prostitutes naming their collection of stray dogs after male writers? That’s where we get the titular collection of dogs: Bret Easton Ellis, Dante, Chaucer, and even a canary bird called Harold Bloom.

Wolff’s debut unabashedly lays its feminist cards on the table, and it doesn’t care if you’re bothered. Neither does Alba Cambó. Of the many power dynamics at work in this novel, its women will not be denied. They embrace sex, rather than be ashamed of or shamed into it. They embrace their sense of justice. They embrace the value of and power in female voice and experience.

So, let’s say you know of a famous actress starting a feminist book club and she needs suggestions. Let’s say you’re starting a feminist book club of your own. Let’s say you, like Alba Cambó, sometimes wonder “what was wrong with depicting violated male bodies when women’s bodies were continually being used in literature for that purpose” because “(s)ome writers wrote like lazily masturbating monkeys in overheated cages.” Then, even with the odd colloquialism in the translation, Lina Wolff’s Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs will not disappoint. Somebody please tell Emma Watson I’d be happy to lead the discussion group in one of my favorite t-shirts.

Lina Wolff’s Bret Easton Ellis And The Other Dogs is available now from And Other Stories.

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