Bluestocking polymath Dot Tint has a new book out next month, a magisterial study of aquatic birds entitled Dotâ€™s Ducks. There are two very curious things about this hefty hardback, and I think it right that you are made aware of them before shelling out your cash for a copy.
It is the first of Dot Tintâ€™s innumerable books not to feature on its dust jacket a mezzotint by her brother Rex Tint, the noted mezzotintist. Indeed, a considerable number of her earlier titles have been absolutely riddled with mezzotints, often quite gratuitously, so much so that there are cynics who claim Dot is keeping Rex gainfully employed, whereas without her patronage he would be starving in some sort of mezzotintistâ€™s garret, surviving on stale croissant crusts and tap water. This is piffle, of course, for Rex Tint is never short of commissions, and has been known to turn work down, for example when he was asked a couple of years ago to create a gigantic mezzotint to be displayed on the wall of a house owned by the Belgian actor and martial arts expert Jean-Claude Camille FranÃ§ois Van Varenberg, better known as Jean-Claude Van Damme. It is not known whether the star chose his professional name to echo Philip Vandamm, the villain played by James Mason in North By Northwest, but we do know that Rex Tint snubbed him despite being offered a very large amount of Belgian money. Whether Dot pays Rex at all for the mezzotints he has until now provided for her books is unclear, making the charge that he is a kept mezzotintist all the more laughable. The absence of his work from Dotâ€™s Ducks has led to speculation that there may have been a falling out between the siblings. Rex is notoriously temperamental, and has recently grown a preposterous beard, thus obscuring the distinctive Tint family cast of his features, so that might be something to do with it. I suppose if he shaves his beard off and is subsequently invited by his sister to provide mezzotints for her next book we will have a better understanding of the matter. Time will tell.
The second curious thing about Dotâ€™s Ducks is the inclusion of a vast amount of material about owls. Owls are not ducks, and Dot Tint cannot seriously believe that they are. Yet there are pages upon pages of owl-related material, offered without any qualification or explanation. I have read my advance copy of the book twice, all the way through, and sure enough, we go from mallard to merganser to teal to owl to shelduck to pochard to bufflehead, as if, in Dot Tintâ€™s world, owls are ducks. It is all very strange. Or at least, it was, until quite by chance the other day I came upon what may be an answer to the riddle. I was browsing through a back number of the magazine Traumatic Childhood Incidents Of Bluestocking Polymaths, and lo and behold, there was a lengthy piece of anecdotage about Dot Tint. Apparently, when she was five or six years old, on a family holiday at a gruesome seaside resort, she was gambolling and frolicking upon the beach when, panting with infant glee, she stopped to catch her breath and looked out to sea, where she saw a rowing boat. Her eyesight was piercing back then, and she could clearly make out that there were two people in the rowing boat. One was rowing, in a fairly lacklustre way, while the other person was holding a sack. All of a sudden, as Dot Tint watched, this person took an owl out of the sack and held it under the water until it drowned, whereupon the dead owl was put back in the sack and the rower rowed the rowing boat away with greater urgency. It does not take a mind doctor to conclude that the traumatised child thereafter held fast to the delusion that owls were ducks, the water their habitat, and that she had not seen an owl cruelly drowned but merely one taking a dip in the sea. If anything, this forgotten magazine article makes Dotâ€™s Ducks an even more compelling book than it otherwise would be, despite the absence of mezzotints by the mezzotintist Rex Tint. Iâ€™d buy it if I were you.