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In The City of Pigs – André Forget

by Venky

(Image Credit: Dundurn.com)

Replete with operatic complexities and other nuances of musicology, “In the City Of Pigs” (the title itself being an imaginative take on references contained within Plato’s ‘Republic’), is grist for a musical mill rather than common fodder for the consumption of  the lay reader. Even though the author sincerely attempts to weave together an appealing tale of raw and uncontained human emotions, an undisguised fetishism towards classical music means that the reader has to trudge through elaborately esoteric passages that discuss and dissect the intricacies of Bach before distinguishing those minutiae from Mozart.

In the preface to the book, the author helpfully informs his readers that the book – an amalgam of the mysteries of music and the menace of real estate that is emblematic of modern capitalism – assumes the shape of a symphony, an extravagant opening closely followed by three shorter movements before finally reaching its climax. An incorrigible fan of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Doors, yours truly is alas bereft of all the intellectual acumen that it takes to enjoy a symphony.

Alexander Otkazov flees both a failed career in music and the city of Montreal to the more bustling pastures of Toronto. Taking up accommodation in a bland and unremarkable apartment, he waits tables in a restaurant. A chance meeting with Sev, a new recruit, sends Otkazov plunging headlong into a world of Bohemian excesses and political blandishments. Sev, an aspiring musician is from and of a respectable pedigree. He has taken up a job in the restaurant purely as a temporary and intermediate measure before going on to a higher calling. Sev introduces Otkazov to some of the most well known names in the musical establishment, and one such meeting leads to Otkazov bagging a job as a journalist covering music.

Otkazov first makes his mark by producing a blistering piece of reportage on an iconoclastic, yet reclusive musical band that calls itself Fera Civitatem. Breaking into abandoned theatres and warehouses, Fera Civitatem are absolute apologists for anarchy. Rebelling against modern materialism, their symphonies and shows are purely by invitation and shrouded in absolute secrecy. No recorded labels of their programmes are available and the only time their songs are heard is when they perform. One of their manifestos says, “our music is sick, and it has sickened us. We pitch between hieratic abjection and narcissistic consumerism on an ocean of our own vomit. We slurp back the pablum fed to us through wet gums; we fill our bellies with syrup and heavy cream and shit our guts out in the bleak hours of the afternoon.” Otkazov, attends one such performance. The show degenerates into sheer bacchanalia. Drugs, drinks and orgies complement eardrum rupturing music that to the uninitiated seems to be a cacophony from the very depths of hell. A hymn to libidinal glory and a paean to carnal urges, Fera Civitatem is anarchy taken to hitherto unimaginable levels and degrees.

Otkazov’ s life of immoderations takes a dark twist when he begins an affair with the wife of one of the industry’s most well known and respected patrons, Lionel Standish. Otkazov also discovers the nauseating alliance between the industry, the real estate establishment and paid artistes that furthers material gluttony at the cost of utilitarianism.

“In The City of Pigs” is a story that could have been. At every stage the reader is getting to grips with the colour, context and contours of the essence of the story, she is exasperatingly distracted by a lengthy allusion to some delicate musical convolution. For example there is a humongous chapter on the evolution and acceptance of hydroorganonology, a concept of a huge musical organ that is constructed underwater and is used to play classical pieces to the appreciation of audiences who are scuba divers as well. Thus the reader is informed in a most painstaking manner that “on August 15th, 1993, an unknown aquatic engineer/architect/amateur organist named Kenji Saito announced that he had completed his “Senritsu,” the first full-scale, fully-functional hydroörganon to be built in the modern era, on a promontory off the coast of Numazu in Japan’s Suruga Bay. Overnight, hydroorganonology went from being a armchair science to a controversial new form of public art, one that united disciplines as diverse as acoustics, oceanography, architecture, and musicology.” This, by the way is a reproduction of an earlier piece by the author for the online webpage “Earth World.” If the description would have ended there, maybe the interest of the reader would have retained its status quo, if not piqued. However an egregious dive (no pun intended) into the complexities of the hydroorgan and its music, the opinions of the sceptics and acolytes etc. tests the patience of the reader. Really tests the patience of the reader. Really really tests the patience of the reader.

Similarly, a detailed explanation on the frequencies at which the musical instruments should be tuned makes the reader (who is not a musical aesthete) tare her hair out in frustration. “In The City of Pigs” – a relevant story masked by a flood of irrelevant details.

(“In The City of Pigs” by Andre Forget is published by Dundurn Press and is available for sale from the 12th of July, 2022)

(Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Book Review)

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