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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

J.R. Ackerley

J.R. Ackerley has my first name ("J" is for Joe) but that isn't the only thing that led me to read his books. 

The critically praised (though I didn't quite care for it) animated version of My Dog Tulip led me to check out the book.  The book's open and honest tone, the narrator was something of a curmedegon but far from an all knowing one, was attractive. He was an editor of an English literature magazine so his writing skills are not surprising, though on his own, Ackerley only thrived when providing autobiographical material of various types.  This included a play based on his P.O.W. days, a book about his father (dedicated to Tulip) and the novel recently referenced.  As a young man, after WWI, Ackerley tried to branch out but to his disappointment, failed in the effort.  His works remain critically praised and an intro to one notes, this plus the fact he served as a mentor to other writers left him as a pretty good success.

Ackerley was the son of a "banana king" (the importance of fruits to 20th Century Latin American history has been well documented) and an actress, who he later learned only married when he was an adult. His father also secretly had another family and a past with homosexual overtones.  JA was solidly homosexual though he never truly found that "ideal friend" dreamt about, a couple long term relationships (not without disappointments too) notwithstanding.  This led to years of loneliness and dispair until he obtained a dog via one such relationship, when the person was jailed on a theft charge. He used this for his novel, which is a pretty sad account of a clearly lonely man who is desperate for some recognition of his role in the guy's life -- his parents and wife seems unfairly to dominate him, blocking him out.  Only the dog (here "Evie") is loyal and there (though he's glad) so much as to refuse to share him with anyone else, even his own cousin.

Tulip was an "Alsatian Bitch" ("bitch" is how she is repeatedly described, so the word was not disreputable in that context as it might be now), a telling bit. The introductions to the books and the film commentary all underline the symbolic nature of his relationship with his dog.  Ackerley's ideal friend was a man loyal to him, somewhat feminine (since Ackerley was to be the dominant one in the relationship, including financially, which is the "masculine" role) and beautiful.  The dog here (a type of greyhound looking breed) met those requirements, but there was a sacrifice involved with such a needy breed (even vets and kennel owners spoke of their unruly behavior).  Also, those who wonder why the Tulip book is so concerned with her breeding, well, Ackerley himself sought out an "ideal friend" via many many sexual relationships, sex an imperfect way to meet his needs.  Finding a mate (to "marry" her) would therefore be a way to please her.  Transference involved.

The Tulip film as noted took a few scenes from We Think The World Of You (an ironic title, since he doesn't really think "they" do, if not as strongly as he does for his "ideal friend"), which is fine, since the novel was really a roman à clef.  The author was middle aged when he obtained the dog, the film a bit misleading, the old man a better match to the voice actor than the original.  My Dog Tulip was a slightly altered (how much, I guess, warrants a look at Ackerley's biography by Peter Parker) account as well.  There is one other book that I have yet to read, a narrative of a trip to India in the 1920s as well as some correspondence published after his death. 

This is a graphic novel (it speaks of two others) from the author of The Time Traveler's Wife.  It is a charming adaption of her short story, with an adult twist involved, about a woman who comes upon a bookmobile containing all the stuff she ever read. 

Graphic novels are not just glorified comic books, but a nifty art form in themselves with much potential.  Some serious subjects, including the Holocaust and Israeli fighting in Lebanon underlines the reach as does less serious fare such as Pride and Prejudice in graphic novel form.