Magazine article The Spectator

Smart Ass

Magazine article The Spectator

Smart Ass

Article excerpt

Caroline: A Mystery

by Cornelius Medvei

Harvill, £10, pp. 153,

ISBN 9781846553882

It's the way Caroline pisses onto the concrete during the lunch break that delights her work colleagues: in a steaming, splattery arc. 'It seemed to them an eloquent demonstration of the fact that the rules they lived by did not apply to her.'

Caroline is a donkey. During the day she analyses policy documents, calculates premiums and nibbles the pot-plants. In the evening she trots home across the city, through the chaotic tides of traffic and confusion of construction sites, to her keeper, Mr Shaw, to play chess.

Delightful, unforgettable and splendidly peculiar, Cornelius Medvei's second novel opens with a journalist receiving a thick parcel of typescript papers. Muddled up with shopping lists, sweet-wrappers and jottings about Audrey Hepburn, is Mr Shaw's memoir of his passionate and platonic love for a donkey. Caroline, remarks the journalist, is subtitled 'A Mystery' because it seems 'to contain a profound and important truth that should be glimpsed but perhaps never fully grasped or understood'.

Mr Shaw (we never learn his first name) met Caroline on a family holiday in the mountains north of 'the city' (we never learn which, or even in what country. ) They fell in love over a meal of radish tops. At the end of the holiday, Mr Shaw buys her, trots her back to the city and becomes a familiarly embarrassing, distracted and divorceable middle-aged man. He takes her to work (where she does her admirable pissing). When she brays with boredom in the yard by his office block, he continues the ride a little further, into the lift, and stables her next to the photocopy machine.

During meetings with clients Mr Shaw puts her behind a screen, where she creaks the floorboards and emits a musty, warm smell.

It doesn't put customers off. …

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