We were there, the ones who one day had to renounce our aspirations

I’ll Sell You a Dog
by Juan Pablo Villalobos
translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey

As I subscribe to And Other Stories, I receive their books through the post four times a year and, most of the time I know nothing about them aside from the title. But I’m going to read them all anyway, so I choose to keep it that way, which makes each and every one a wonderful surprise.

I really liked this farce about an old man living in a block of flats reserved for retirees in Mexico City. Teo (not his real name) enjoys standing apart from the other residents, refusing to join their daily book group and accusing them of snobbery about his having been a taco seller all his life. He’s a drunk and also suffers from dementia, so it’s hard to know whether to believe him when he insists to his neighbour Francesca (not her real name) that he’s not writing a novel.

“All Mexico’s artistic geniuses of the 20th century passed through its doors…And the rest of us passed through, too: the cannon fodder, the filler, the extras, the gatecrashers, the ones who didn’t have the combination that gives you a ticket to the history of art. We were there, the ones who one day had to renounce our aspirations, forced by circumstances or by accepting our own limitations. Then there were the ones who pressed on through mediocrity, made art their profession and condemned themselves to a life of ridicule. And on top of that were those who couldn’t do anything but keep on painting, no matter what, and who ended up mad or ill, or died when they were young, martyrs of art.”

He’s a joker and a flirt, but a trace of the sorrows of old age still comes through the humour. Teo has measured out how many years he has left in which he can afford beer and rent, and jealously guards every peso to retain the equilibrium he has found. He counts among his friends a wannabe revolutionary old greengrocer, a Mormon missionary from the US and a young man known as Mao who may actually be revolutionary.

Teo’s past is dripfed through the book, from his early ambition to be an artist and his friendships with some of Mexico’s great artists to his one true romance and his difficult family. He’s adorable and also awful. I would honestly love this book if it weren’t for the bad things done to dogs. I know it’s comedy and Teo is such an unreliable narrator that you can’t take the dog stuff seriously, but I still found it upsetting. Be warned!

Te vendo un perro published 2014 by Editorial Anagrama.
This translation published 2016 by And Other Stories.