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Rhodes, Dan 1972–

Rhodes, Dan 1972–

(Danuta de Rhodes)

PERSONAL:

Born 1972, in England; married. Education: University of Glamorgan, humanities degree, M.A., 1997.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Edinburgh, Scotland.

CAREER:

Writer. Has worked on a farm, in a bookshop, in a pub, and as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Chosen as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, 2003; QPB New Voices Award, and Author's Club First Novel Award, both 2004, for Timoleon Vieta Come Home.

WRITINGS:

Anthropology, Fourth Estate/HarperCollins (Glasgow, Scotland), 2000.

Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love: Stories, Fourth Estate/HarperCollins (Glasgow, Scotland), 2001.

Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003.

(As Danuta de Rhodes) The Little White Car, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.

Gold, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Deemed one of Granta's "Best Young British Novelists" in 2003, Dan Rhodes made his fiction debut with Anthropology, a collection of 101 super-short stories, each consisting of only 101 words and each describing a central truth about a romantic relationship. As reviewers pointed out, the extreme compression of the style precludes conventional character or plot development; instead, themes are crystallized, much as in a sonnet or haiku. Despite this lack of development, however, the book impressed many readers with its emotional impact. Dan Coxon, writing in Spike, found Anthropology "surprisingly poignant," while Booklist contributor Ted Leventhal described the stories as "funny, quirky, often absurd, and occasionally profound." Many stories feature surreal incidents: a girlfriend in one piece is so stunningly attractive that she causes car accidents every day when she goes out to the store; in another story, a girlfriend surrounds herself with empty yogurt containers; Tortoiseshell, the girlfriend in another piece, is in jail. Finding some content "overly Brautigan inspired," a writer for Publishers Weekly nevertheless concluded that the stories "gather steam, increasing in violence, heartbreak and intensity" through the book. School Library Journal reviewer Susan H. Woodcock praised the book for its formal inventiveness, pointing out that Rhodes's surprising little twists can often "provoke new thinking about age-old quandaries."

Rhodes followed Anthropology with a similarly themed collection, Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love: Stories. Though not confined to 101 words, the seven pieces in the collection feature the same quirky outlook that critics enjoyed in his first book. Some readers, however, found the second collection relatively disappointing. Noting that Rhodes employs archetypes rather than fully dimensional characters in this book, a Publishers Weekly writer stated that he "aims for parable and, despite inventiveness, comes closer to pat." Times Literary Supplement critic Christopher Taylor, however, called the book a "playful, perverse and self-consciously winsome" collection.

After publication of Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love, Rhodes announced that he planned to retire from writing fiction. Soon thereafter, however, publication of his first novel, Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey, landed him on Granta's "Best Young British Novelists" list, and Rhodes abandoned his plan to abandon his writing career. The book, hailed by many critics as a provocative and dark comedy in which, as Coxon put it, "a strong vein of humor [is] closely entwined with the brutality and tragedy." The novel's title character is a dog, picked up from the street as a pup by the protagonist, Cockroft, an aging gay Englishman who has gone to Italy to retire after a mediocre career as a TV producer and musician. Lonely since the departure, years earlier, of the "boy in silver shorts," Cockroft now lavishes his devotion on Timoleon. When a handsome but sinister stranger who claims to be a Bosnian enters Cockroft's life, things take a sad turn for the dog. The Bosnian—who is straight but agrees to service Cockroft with periodical oral sex in return for room and board—senses that the dog hates him and insists that Cockroft get rid of the animal. Cockroft complies, abandoning the dog by the side of the road in Rome.

The second half of the book, more episodic than the first, focuses on Timoleon's long journey back to his beloved master, during which he encounters various characters with many tales to share. At the same time, Rhodes intersplices these vignettes with scenes that reveal, in increments, more of the truth about who the Bosnian really is and why he is hiding out in Tuscany.

Many critics praised the novel as a brilliant and eccentric mix of hilarity and pathos, but some skeptics were less favorably impressed. Jim Gladstone, writing in Lambda Book Report, concluded that the book "persistently feels on the verge of some sweeping poetic coherence, which never comes. The reader is left to wonder whether this nagging elusiveness is a result of authorial intent or inattention." New Statesman contributor Hugo Barnacle, noting the episodic structure of the book, surmised that Rhodes "has perhaps not mastered the novel form altogether." The Nation critic Caleb Crain leveled more serious charges against the book, observing that Rhodes's cartoonish depiction of Cockroft amounts to "selling homosexual degradation retail, for the chuckles." Rhodes "knows that sorrow is beneath the surface of his jokes," Crain went on, "but in his narrative voice he pretends to be past disappointment, and he mocks those who don't pretend with him…. There is no charity in Rhodes's novel," concluded the critic, "probably because he believes it to be scarce in the world. But in fact it isn't necessary to choose between kindness and lust."

Other commentators, however, found emotional complexity and depth in the novel. "Rhodes writes straight from—and about—the heart," observed Time International contributor Michael Brunton. He "understands the subversive power of the simple tale, well told. And it's the tradition of European fairy and folktales that his stories evoke—where fixed notions of place and time evaporate, plots and passions hinge on chance encounters, and deformity and magic are the stuff of life." Benedicte Page, writing in Bookseller, noted that, compared with the author's shorter fiction, Timoleon Vieta Come Home "takes a broader view of the theme of disappointed love, exploring with a beguiling mix of humour and poignancy the many ways in which love is given, betrayed or lost." Iris Benaroia, in a Bookslut review, hailed the novel as nothing less than "sensational in every sense" and a "succinct, perfect, acerbic little book."

Writing under the pseudonym Danuta de Rhodes, Rhodes next published The Little White Car, a novel that satirically exploits "chick-lit" conventions. The book, as described on the Contemporary Writers Web site, recounts "the adventures of two French women, Veronique, who has just dumped her boyfriend, and Estelle, following the night Princess Diana was killed in Paris." According to Coxon in his Spike interview with the author, the book "exhibits some of the same quirky humour as [Rhodes's] debut, albeit with less brutality."

Rhodes's third novel, Gold, is the story of Miyuki Woodward, a lesbian who spends her summer vacations in a boring village in Pembrokeshire, where she excels on the pub's quiz team. Tim Souster, writing in Times Literary Supplement, described the novel as "relentlessly whimsical" and filled with characters "composed entirely of mild eccentricities." The result, in the critic's view, is a novel without much substance that "relies dangerously on a slender charm." Similarly, Asylum contributor John Self found the book "affecting but only in brief snatches."

Explaining his preference for writing in a comic vein, Rhodes told Coxon that the more serious writing of literary heavyweights often leaves him bored. "I am as influenced by telly and comedy and music as I am by book writers," he admitted. "And what I've taken from those things, I think, is that you just have to keep the pace going, you have to keep things toe-tapping and entertaining."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Rhodes, Dan, Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 2000, Ted Leventhal, review of Anthropology, p. 218.

Bookseller, June 7, 2002, "Dan Rhodes," p. 33; January 31, 2003, Benedicte Page, "Tales of the Broken Hearted: Dan Rhodes' Tragi-comic Stories of Disappointed Love Have Won Him Many Fans in the Trade—but He Has Vowed That His Third Book Will Be His Last," p. 28.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of Timoleon Vieta Come Home: A Sentimental Journey, p. 830; August 1, 2007, review of Gold.

Lambda Book Report, October 1, 2003, Jim Gladstone, "To the Dogs," review of Timoleon Vieta Come Home.

Library Journal, September 15, 2000, Philip Santo, review of Anthropology, p. 117.

Nation, November 3, 2003, Caleb Crain, "Man's Best Friend," p. 34.

New Statesman, June 9, 2003, Hugo Barnacle, "Novel of the Week," p. 52.

New York Times Book Review, September 24, 2000, Lori Leibovich, review of Anthropology, p. 22; August 31, 2003, Sam Lipsyte, "Follow This Dog," p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, August 7, 2000, review of Anthropology, p. 73; June 9, 2003, review of Timoleon Vieta Come Home, p. 33; January 9, 2006, review of Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love: Stories, p. 34; June 18, 2007, review of Gold, p. 33.

School Library Journal, January 1, 2001, Susan H. Woodcock, review of Anthropology, p. 160.

Spectator, March 15, 2003, Sam Leith, "Too Sweet and Sour," p. 51.

Time International, April 28, 2003, Michael Brunton, "My Life as a Dog: Dan Rhodes' Novel Is a Dark and Beguiling Tale about the Strange Affections of a Man and His Pooch," p. 97.

Times Literary Supplement, February 2, 2001, Christopher Tayler, review of Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love, p. 22; March 28, 2003, "Boy Meets Dog," p. 22; March 30, 2007, Tim Souster, "A Pint of Brains," p. 21.

Washington Post Book World, February 12, 2006, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted? They End up in Dan Rhodes's Stories," review of Don't Tell Me the Truth about Love, p. 15.

World Literature Today, September 1, 2004, Bruce King, review of Timoleon Vieta Come Home.

ONLINE

Asylum,http://theasylum.wordpress.com/ (June 16, 2008), John Self, review of Gold.

Book Slut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (June 16, 2008), Iris Benaroia, review of Timoleon Vieta Come Home.

Contemporary Writers,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (June 16, 2008), profile of Rhodes.

Dan Rhodes Home Page,http://www.danrhodes.co.uk (June 16, 2008).

Guardian,http://www.guardian.co.uk/ (January 10, 2003), Dan Rhodes, "I Had a Pop Idol Moment."

Spike,http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (June 16, 2008), Dan Coxon, author interview.

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