LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER AWARD 2008
This book has won a whole heap of awards, including the Tasmania Pacific Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and it is the first of my ‘reviews’ – no, I should say ‘rambling-on’s – about Australian books. I think I’ll be featuring Australian literature for a while here; it’s all I’ve been reading these days, after all.
Firstly, I’ll start by saying that I have mixed feelings about this book, as I usually do. I loved it, I really did. It’s one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That’s what I loved about it. And the writing itself was quite lovely. Here’s one of the passages I liked.
It had begun, seven months earlier, with a painting.
April becalmed in hazy, slanted light. Tom clipped on the dog’s lead and they left his flat to walk in streets where houses were packed like wheat. Windows were turning yellow. Dahlias showed off like sunsets. On an autumn evening in the city, Tom looked sideways at other people’s lives.
Tom looked sideways at other people’s lives. That happens quite a lot throughout the book, actually. The protagonist, Tom Loxley, is a bit of a voyeur. I thought the way he studied Nelly’s paintings to feel a sense of her was rather voyeuristic.
This is a quirky little book, delving into Tom’s childhood in India, and the relationship between his parents, Tom’s relationship with Nelly, Nelly’s relationship with her ex-husband, and the mysterious disappearance of this ex-husband – which turns out to have a strange, strange twist to it. It was an enjoyable read nonetheless.
The thing I didn’t like was that although this book is called The Lost Dog, – and not surprisingly, centres around Tom’s search for his lost dog – the relationship between the dog and the owner left me feeling strangely dissatisfied. Actually, it puzzled me beyond belief.
Here is this man, crying over his dog; pining after it in the short segments when the book doesn’t plunge into flashbacks – and the dog is hardly ever mentioned otherwise. It’s almost like the dog is merely a token, placed there to add depth to Tom’s character, and to tie the fragments together. The loss of the dog doesn’t seem to hold any significance towards the other events in the book, nor does it really serve any purpose in pushing the plot forward.
The reason why I have a problem with this is that the book could have gotten on fine without the whole lost dog aspect. It not only fails to tie the book together, but also fails to be of any relevance at all. I don’t know if I’m making any sense here. Basically, the whole dog-plot seemed very contrived. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful book, and I really did love it.
EDIT: Yes, I do realise that the dog is a MacGuffin; i.e. a deliberate plot device, but IMHO it was poorly done, and that’s why I’m critical of it – not because of the plot device itself. However, I realise in hindsight, that my mixed feelings towards this book stemmed not from the dog plot, but from de Kretser’s writing. I see this novel now as a sort of unrefined ore: potentially valuable and beautiful and eloquent, but coated with a whole lot of pretentious and unnecessary muck (e.g. I think all that faeces talk was meant to be some sort of witty comment on human nature). Perhaps she was a little over-ambitious; she tried so hard to be effortless that at times it showed. The final novel wasn’t as seamless as it should have been. Although it is a worthy book, with a lot of potential, I’m not surprised that it failed to make the Booker shortlist.