A. Craig Copetas

McEwan, I tried to call you on the radio telephone, when our old flatmate, John Webb, fell overboard in a gale off the coast of Long Island a few years ago and was nearly swept south to Bermuda. But the old Oxford number had been disconnected, and your publisher told me that you were ‘indisputably a hugely important literary phenomenon’ and not taking any calls. Jonathan Cape’s posture is completely understandable given the current funeral atmosphere in England, but the psychic ramifications of Black Dogs are global in reach, and people we know are calling with questions. This is the reason the London Review has made contact, and why I’m sitting in a seedy hotel room in Uzbekistan writing about Black Dogs, instead of filing a report on the gunfire outside my window. Which is getting closer, by the way.

Shaking the memory of some of our experiences together as young writers at the University of East Anglia and in London might get you in the mood for what’s to come, not the stuff about the late-night tattoo sessions and the three-week hunt for Mr Hashish, the Afghan border guard who stole your US Army fatigue jacket with the ‘vitamins’ sewn into the lining. Those stories are probably best kept under wraps, at least until you die, or until I can use them to fulfil the ransom demands when you’re kidnapped, probably by a gifted amateur entomologist like Bernard in Black Dogs. And people will be coming after you. Lighten up on the 17th-century flute concertos and the Olympia Press reprints and crank up the Lou Reed. This kind of macabre stuff about frothing hell hounds spooks the animal liberation crowd, stimulates the devil-worshippers, and cultivates police interest in your whereabouts whenever a serial killer is discovered stalking the English moors. I warned you about this years ago, when you first started weirding-out the crowd at the Mitre with stories of pickled sexual organs floating in mason jars and when the Catholic bartender wanted you burned for blasphemy. We made it out of Norwich’s psychedelic underworld alive and intact, but these are different times.

You always wrote whipsong fiction and Black Dogs is not different, but I’m distressed about this fly-agaric gloom that your characters are stuck in. Webb locked himself in a closet after reading this book, screaming that Roman Polanski was coming to get him. As soon as I make it out of Tashkent and back to Paris, I intend to rip my shirt off, run into the street, and start spitting garlic at the first English couple I can find honeymooning in France. ‘June came to God in 1946 through an encounter with evil in the form of two black dogs ... But it is the black dogs I return to most often. They disturb me when I consider what happiness I owe them, especially when I allow myself to think of them, not as animals, but as spirit hounds, incarnations ... fading as they move into the foothills of the mountains from where they will return to haunt us, somewhere in Europe, in another time.’ United Europe or not, if the French minister of culture reads this book, there will be an immediate law passed ordering every British honeymoon holidaymaker back across the Channel before sunset. Jesus, Ian, what do Bernard and June do in their next adventure, invade Poland to rape the Black Madonna?

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