Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: "Pyg"

Russell Potter's Pyg: The Memoirs of a Learned Pig (Canongate, 2011; forthcoming in the US from Penguin) is pure delight from start to finish. Drawing on a brief "learned pig" fad which sprang up in 1780s Britain, Potter has imagined what that might have looked like from the perspective of the trained pig himself. His Toby, the "author" of the memoirs between these covers (Potter declares himself simply the editor) is a pig for the ages: move over Wilbur, this one can conjugate Latin verbs!

Embracing the idiosyncracies of 18th-century italicization and capitalization practices, set in a nice Caslon Antique type, and with a 1798 woodcut illustration of a learned pig at the start of each chapter (a nice touch), this is not only a very entertaining and enjoyable read, but also a lovely little book. Potter's scholarly apparatus (glossing Toby's Latin phrases, identifying historical characters from the text, &c.) are also welcome and make for fun reading.

Added bonuses are the cameo appearances by such literary luminaries as Samuel Johnson, William Blake, Anna Seward, and Robert Burns, and Potter's (Toby's) sharp sense of 18th-century style and sensibility. Deeply funny, but also brilliantly satirical and also just a darn good story. I recommend it.