Timoleon Vieta Come Home
This novel is about two men and a dog. Dan Rhodes began writing it somewhere around late 1996 or early 1997, and finished it in 2002. While putting the finishing touches to Timoleon Vieta Come Home, he was dropped by his publisher of the time, F***** E*****. They told him that the book was ‘not publishable’ because it would ‘not stand up to critical scrutiny’. Fortunately it was picked up by an infinitely more discerning publisher and came out in 2003. Let’s look at some examples of critical scrutiny, and see if F***** E***** were right:
An effortlessly charming and utterly enjoyable novel. The Guardian
In the rush to praise Monica Ali and Mark Haddon, many critics have overlooked the writing of Dan Rhodes, who is surely the true best of Granta’s new Best Of list. Everybody should go out and buy Timoleon Vieta Come Home, a tender but unsentimental novel about a failed composer, his sadistic lover and his mongrel dog. A story worthy of W.G. Sebald, universal in its scope and ambition. Rose Tremain, The Telegraph
A dog, a beautiful mongrel, is the hero of Dan Rhodes’s first novel, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, which is by turns hilarious and heartrending. Rhodes is that real, rare thing – a natural storyteller. Paul Bailey, The Sunday Times
This short novel is a delight, a masterpiece of beautifully unforced comedy. The Observer
A tragicomedy heavy on the comedy, Timoleon Vieta is an extremely fresh and sensitive meditation on love lost and unresolved anger. A beautiful and often touching book. Independent on Sunday
A tale about the bond between a dog and his owner doesn’t sound like essential reading, but Rhodes’ writing is utterly captivating. Heat
Timoleon Vieta Come Home resembles Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves and Alberto Moravia’s The Voice Of The Sea, and that’s saying something. Rhodes clearly has a firm grasp of passionate misunderstandings and hopeless undertakings. It’s almost enough to make you cry. Irish Times
Beguiling and affecting… an amusing and exhilarating ragbag. I have to say that I rather loved it. The Independent
A heartbreaking tale of loneliness, longing, betrayal and dogged devotion. The Herald
Savagely funny, startlingly original. The Times
A novel that’s as unusual as it is unforgettable. Arena
Imagine a series of The Littlest Hobo directed by David Lynch. Spectator
It’s a hard trick to be stylish, affecting and cartoonishly absurd all at the same time, but Rhodes manages it. Time Out
Charming, original, funny, biting and wise. The Guardian
Part shaggy dog tale, part fairy tale, part Lassie takeoff, and a quite thoroughly original debut… his story veers dangerously between the Scylla and Charybdis of tearful sentimentality and mocking irony, somehow managing to stay on course, constantly subverting the reader’s expectations, even as it plays to our most visceral yearnings for closure and happy endings… He has written a beguiling and resonant little novel. Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
Terrifically talented… Charming, funny and sad, this is a story about very human universals: love, loss and loneliness. The Observer
This is an original, delightful read. Daily Telegraph
Hilariously subverted, the humour is really dark and will make you laugh out loud… A must-read. The Big Issue
Remarkable… funny and touching, a weird and wonderful reminder of life’s contingencies and sadness. The Independent
…extraordinary. I haven’t read anything like it before. It’s a seemingly unemotive but beautifully crafted novel with a big emotional hook at the end. It really smacks you in the face. DBC Pierre, Guardian Books Of The Year
I also really enjoyed Dan Rhodes’ Timoleon Vieta Come Home. He and I clearly share an obsession with dogs and I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say we have left the way open for someone to write a novel where something ugly is done to a dog using a spoon. Mark Haddon, Guardian Books Of The Year
Rhodes’s debut is a joy. The Times
Oh dear. As you can see, F***** E***** were not exactly vindicated.
Timoleon Vieta Come Home won the Authors’ Club First Novel Award and the QPB New Voices Award, and was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Prince Maurice Prize. It is currently ‘not publishable’ in around twenty languages.
It went on to star in Knocked Up, and Cate Le Bon even sang a song about it. Look:
Some time in 2006 Rhodes wrote a piece about the jackets of TVCH for Zembla magazine. Sadly, prior to publication Zembla went the way of all flesh. So what we’re going to do here is present the jackets with minimal commentary, and at the end we’ll add Rhodes’ article.
SPAIN, Alfaguara. ISBN: 84204650305
PORTUGAL, Temas e Debates. ISBN: 9727596371
UK, Canongate. ISBN: 184195389X
The first edition is kind of textured and papery, and subsequent printings are smooth and a bit more rubbery. Needless to say, here at the skyscraper we have both kinds.
UK, Canongate. ISBN: 1841954810
Samesame but green.
NETHERLANDS, De Bezige Bij. ISBN: 9023411684
FRANCE, Stock. ISBN: 2234056802
US, Canongate. ISBN: 1841954225
A hardback edition. Very nice it is too.
GERMANY, Kiepenheuer & Witsch. ISBN: 3462033174
GERMANY, DTV. ISBN: 3423133457
US, Harcourt: ISBN: 0156029952
SERBIA, Narodna Knjiga Alfa. ISBN: 8633112264
DENMARK, Tiderne Skifter. ISBN: 8779730744
ISRAEL, Miskal. ISBN: 9655115372
RUSSIA, Amphora. ISBN: 5942786968
BRAZIL, Rocco. ISBN: 853251815X
NORWAY, Dinamo. ISBN: 8280719841
A hardback beauty from Norway…
GREECE, Palatinus. ISBN: 9604103687
CROATIA, Algoritam. ISBN: 9532202269
JAPAN, Andrews Press. ISBN: 4901868055
SWEDEN, Lind & Co. ISBN: 9185267104
ITALY, Garzanti. ISBN: 8811665264
US, QPB/Canongate. ISBN: 1841954225.
Book club edition, same ISBN as US hardback.
HUNGARY, Palatinus. ISBN: 9639487953
TAIWAN, Locus. ISBN: 9867291808
Thailand & Slovakia. Maybe some others too. More news on these as it breaks.
In the meantime, here is the piece Rhodes wrote for Zembla:
It isn’t easy writing about dogs. I can understand why Mark Haddon put a garden fork through his in chapter one. It isn’t always easy reading about them either – I’ve met several Paul Auster fans who needed reconstructive dental surgery after attempting Timbuktu. In the closing months of writing Timoleon Vieta Come Home I was having a bastard of a time finding the right pitch for my eponymous mongrel. I wanted him to be a normal, resolutely un-anthropomorphic dog, but I still wanted the story, just occasionally, to drift over to his point of view. Hmmm… I was stuck. The solution came when I met Vien Thuc, a Buddhist monk from the city of Dalat in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
Vien Thuc shares his pagoda with a pack of ragged mongrels who, at least in silhouette, answer the description of Timoleon Vieta that I had written years before. As fortune would have it he paints pictures of them, in silhouette, accompanied by perfectly worded canine thoughts. His dogs are innocence itself, living only in the present where they pass the time dreaming of food and their master, and idly wondering what else they ought to be thinking about. His words are a million times better than anything I would have come up with, so I picked six canvases, bought them for the going rate then handed him a slim wad of fifties for the rights to use the images and words in the book. Back home I engaged in some rudimentary rostrum photography involving a step ladder and two pairs of trainers, and put his paintings into the manuscript at strategic points, where they became at once an integral part of the storytelling and of the design of the book.
My Scottish publisher took the manuscript to Pentagram, who pounced on the dogs and came up with a simple and handsome image of one of them in a circle of pink letters on a mouth-watering chocolate brown background. It was a delight to see the Vietnamese mutt take centre stage in his new role as a rescued Umbrian stray, and since then his likeness has found its way around the world as several of the book’s foreign publishers have used variations on this design for their own jackets. This is fine by me and I’m sure it’s fine by Vien Thuc, who is pretty fame-hungry as monks go.
A few publishers, though, have started from scratch. The Norwegian edition features a charmingly idyllic picture of the dog and his master heading off to town in their pick-up, and the Croatian one has a lolloping cartoon dog and a multi-coloured brick road leading towards his home in the hills. Some Timoleon Vietas are the work of artists, like the plaintive one on the Portuguese edition and the wistful back view on the German paperback, but others are photographs of real-life hairy dogs. These tend to be the hardest to reconcile with the scruffy star of the book, whose heritage is an indecipherable mishmash. I’m no expert on breeds, but in the French edition Timoleon Vieta looks something like a Jack Russell, cradled in the arms of his master’s true love, in Greece he seems to be a variation on the Dachshund (a dog I find it particularly hard to warm to – it’s a long story), and in Sweden he’s a proud hunting hound, really the antithesis of the scraggy dog in the story. If anything, he resembles Cockroft, the dog’s master – maybe that was the idea.
The Russian jacket carries a photograph too, but gets around this problem by using a glorious extreme close up of a snout that could belong to almost any dog. The Timoleon Vieta with the prettiest eyes is the Italian one, and the most off-the-wall rendering is surely the Serbian edition – a birthday card image of a loveable pup with a paintbrush photoshopped into its mouth. Lord knows if my bleak and brutal book found its target audience over there – I’ve not heard how it went down.
Whenever a new edition lands on the doormat I jump for joy, even if the dog on the front looks nothing like the dog in my head. They all have their own charm, and they liven up my trophy cabinet. I hope they’ll be a comfort when I’m old and bitter, which won’t be long now.
And as for Vien Thuc, the last I heard he was a movie star. Still a monk and an artist, but a movie star as well.