"In the first place, the fable must exhibit the animals as being endowed with human reason, and initiated into all the customs and conditions of our mode of living, so that their behavior has nothing at all odd in it." -- Jacob Grimm
I was trying to decide whether Kerstin Ekman's book fulfilled the publisher's promise of 'a beautiful fable exploring the unique bond between man and dog.' and have to put my hand up and admit that I didn't know quite exactly what defined a fable. I knew what I thought a fable was but it was good to define it. Howeve before I got that far I found myself completely discombobulated by the recent edition of Waterstone's Magazine.
For a start I'd completely forgotten this comes free to Waterstone's Card Holders and I of course was one of the first of those. Piloted in the South West (not sure why) so I felt it incumbent on me to spend like a thing possessed just so the scheme would be considered a huge success and the rest of you could benefit from the nationwide roll-out.
So I picked up the latest edition to see what Waterstone's think I should be reading and I turned the page to see this picture which rang a tinkle of a distant bell that had little to do with The Outlander.
No, surely this was the cover of a recent translation of Kerstin Ekman's The Dog published by Sphere, which I happened to be reading.
I've had a close look and I think there's been some skullduggery with the dog but clearly this is a popular Getty Images picture.
Then when I started to think about it both books did have odd similarities. In many ways The Dog could be perceived as a mini-canine version of The Outlander, making a few allowances and taking into account circumstances, and a minor detail about the number of legs etc. There is a good deal of wandering, escape, starvation and injury in both, fear, deprivation and confusion, uncertainty and sense of unknowing, plenty of anguish followed by a recovery and a re-homing of sorts and of course lashings of snow.
When I think of bookish dog narrators my thoughts immediately turn to Lassie-type moments but Kerstin Ekman doesn't fall into the trap of dog-speak, settling instead for a sort of third person narrative, dog-stream- of-consciousness, short sentences and a dog's eye view of the world.
This is dog-cam writ large on the page.
The beginning will break every dog-lover's heart into little pieces as the puppy wanders off after his mother whose master, the man,had put his coat on to set off on an ice fishing trip and the mother-dog can't stop herself, she had followed out of instinct. The puppy is quickly lost,
'He crept backwards into the hole and ate snow. It triggered his hunger, and his stomach began to ache. He whined but no one came. He whimpered, listening. No paws crossing the linoleum, no voice.'
Sorry, I did try to warn you.
However the book doesn't descend into sentimentality, it's a tough old world and the puppy is going to have to be as resilient as any other wild animal might be. Fending for himself it is his sense of smell that will initially keep him alive as he eventually finds food
'Eighty-four dawns were behind him when the sun rose, and he wouldn't have made it through a single day more if he hadn't found the moose carcass in the marsh. No one can live long on hare droppings.'
and so his wanderings begin.
There is confusion and a good deal of stealth required as he is forced to fall back on his instincts to survive in the wild, but if your heart was broken into tiny pieces at the beginning, worry not because domesticity is also in the dog's genes and this bodes well when a hunter spots him and knows exactly how to gain his trust.
Hunden has been much-loved by Swedish readers since 1986, this new translation now making it available to the rest of us and I have to say it's a must for all dog-lovers, you won't let that puppy out of your sight after reading this one.