“Anyone who has looked with any intensity at a Caravaggio… at any number of paintings really, will know that this ‘force’ is real…the belief in this force is the foundation of all visual art: that the seen thing, painted like this, might become an opening to another world, without ever ceasing to be the ordinary thing itself.”
– Miles Allinson, Fever of Animals
Winner of the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award 2014
For nearly five years I have wanted to write something about the surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu: about his paintings, one of which hangs in a little restaurant in Melbourne, and about his disappearance, which is still a mystery. But this is probably not going to be the book I imagined. Nothing has quite worked out the way I planned.
With the small inheritance he received upon his father’s death, Miles has come to Europe on the trail of the Romanian surrealist, who disappeared into a forest in 1967. But in trying to unravel the mystery of Bafdescu’s secret life, Miles must also reckon with his own.
Faced with a language and a landscape that remain stubbornly out of reach, and condemned to wait for someone who may never arrive, Miles is haunted by thoughts of his ex-girlfriend, Alice, and the trip they took to Venice that ended their relationship.
It is a most peculiar thing to read a book and be a little unsure as to what genre it sits within! While I was sure it was a work of fiction, once I started some research before sitting down to write this review, I found that other readers were more confused than I! I can now confirm that Fever of Animals is definitely a work of fiction! In 2014, Miles Allinson won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Published by Scribe this year, Fever of Animals is a highly unusual kind yet brilliant book.
The main protagonist Miles – confusingly named the same as the author – is an ex-artist and a wanderer, searching for himself and the Romanian surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu. After two life-changing events, the Australian seeks meaning in the world around him.
I have no idea where to start with this book. Perhaps with Miles (the character): he is a highly unlikable person and there wasn’t one point in the novel where I could relate to him, like him or feel sorry for him. He successfully managed to distance himself from everyone in his life even pushing away his partner and lover Alice. Having not yet learnt the skill of listening, Miles is unable to hear what those around him are saying, especially Alice. It pains the reader that he is so completely self-absorbed. It is infuriating!
However, what Miles (the author) does incredibly well is write! His language and descriptions are exceptionally good. His perception of people and his ability to write characters is so realistic that there is no wonder people are mistaking this for a memoir. If his publisher hadn’t told me I may not have believed this was a work of fiction. There is so much to this book – it is a meditation on memory, looking at the way people, time and place can slip through your fingers. Memory is a fickle thing and not always the most reliable; we tend to remember things the way we want to, rather than how they really occurred. Fever of Animals isn’t just about memory though. It is about nature, relationships, longing, regret, running and art. It is about the cruelty of human behaviour and our inability to understand what it means.
Woven through Fever of Animals is fictional Miles’ search for an obscure Romanian surrealist painter called Emil Bafdescu. After seeing a small painting in a Melbourne restaurant, fictional Miles becomes obsessed with finding out about Bafdescu’s life. His search takes him all over Europe where he spends his days mostly hung-over from the previous night and being haunted by his past. There is a strong sense of melancholy that hangs on every page; Miles can’t seem to work out how he feels about Alice, and his search for answers to Bafdescu’s disappearance appears to be more about his elusive self than anything else.
I can definitely recommend reading this book. It is unusual and frustrating, disheartening yet beautiful all at the same time.
AUTHOR: Miles Allinson
PUBLISHER: Scribe Publications
PUB DATE: 26 August 2015
Thank you to Scribe Publications for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!