Teaching The Dog To Read by Jonathan Carroll (book review).

Once an author is established, with a number of novels, it becomes clear what kind of writer they are and who their books will appeal to. From David Weber you would expect military SF but Adam Nevill will provide contemporary horror with supernatural overtones. Jonathan Carroll writes about the weird and wonderful. Each book is different but with a surreal element binding it together. There are some books that you read and enjoy but probably won’t go back to. ‘Teaching The Dog To Read’ is the opposite. The first reaction on completing it is to re-read, to contemplate the cleverness and seek all the subtleties missed the first time round.


Tony Areal is, apparently, a very ordinary person and maybe a little on the dull side. As with most of us, he has dreams: things he would like to do, to own, girls he would like to date but who he considers out of his league. Then, one morning, a package arrives for him. Inside is the ultra-expensive watch he has coveted for years. There is no-one he knows that would send him one, so he suspects it is either a mistake or he is dreaming. If the latter, it is a dream he is willing to collude with. A week later, a Porsche turns up in the car park of the office where he works. Instantly, the attitudes of his colleagues change towards him but Tony doesn’t notice, as in the car of his dreams is the woman of his dreams, literally.

All of us have imagined how would you react if the person you were in your dreams turned up and offered to swap places, to let you live your exotic fantasies in exchange for your dream-self taking on your ordinary, day-time persona. This is exactly what happens to Tony. The person in your imagination, the one you would like to be often has much more confidence and daring as the real you. When the Tonys swap existences, people notice.

On one level, this could be regarded as what it appears to be, a fantasy about achieving your dreams. As anyone who has ever taught or done public speaking, we all have two personalities that come into play, depending on circumstances: the work one and the other. Not everyone has the opportunity to let the confident optimist out. Tony Areal could be regarded as having a split-personality and when the two persona change places, the night time Tony achieves what the other cannot.

This is a delightful novella deserving of attention. For those interested, the title comes from a throw-away line on page twenty seven and its bizarreness sums up the surreal joy of reading the whole.

Pauline Morgan

June 2016

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2015. 90 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-725-7)

check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com

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