Sunday 3 May 2020

Running Dog - Don DeLillo (1978)

Rating: Excellent

Don DeLillo is one of my all time favourite novelists and I have deliberately not rushed to read all of his novels so that I can always have some lurking there waiting for when I feel that certain itch to immerse myself in his unique narrative style. DeLillo wrote two of the great post-modernist novels, one could even call them guidebooks to post-modernist thought - White Noise (1985) and Underworld (1997). Running Dog does not scale the lofty heights of those two novels, but it does deliver enough intellectual DeLillo thrills to illicit a certain literary smug satisfaction. Running Dog features a typical DeLillo premise: various shady factions maneuvering to get their hands on a film that purports to contain footage of Nazi's getting up to carnal naughtiness in the last days in Hitler's bunker as the Soviets creep ever closer. DeLillo pulls the reader into this circle of lust over the film, making you want to see and know just as much as the next nefarious 'businessman'.

Typically for a DeLillo novel Running Dog has an ensemble cast of characters, rather than one main protagonist leading the way. This is certainly not a weakness due to DeLillo's ability to bring alive the psychological core of a character in a just a few lines - "He appeared younger than twenty-two, looking a little like a teenager with a nervous disability. High forehead, prominent cheekbones, large teeth. He seemed intense, over-committed to something, his voice keening out of a lean bony face..." Coupled with DeLillo's dialogue, which is stripped down, yet bursting with a deeper complexity, irony and a rhetorical self awareness, the novel can't help but to delight. I burst out laughing a number of times, including after the very last line, which is a difficult thing for a novelist to achieve. Even more effective is the realisation that if the premise of the existence of an amateur Nazi porn film wasn't disturbing enough, the reality of what actually is on the film has its own subtly disturbing implications. I thoroughly enjoyed Running Dog at a time when I really needed something to take me away from our current reality, which, as we all know, has its own disturbing implications. I have no doubt that DeLillo will be one of those authors who pen a post-plague novel in the tradition of many great novelists.

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