I always sit up and pay attention to Canadian literature as you know and I'm wondering whether news of the Book Depository setting up shop in the US will make it any easier to lay hands on that gold dust across the border.
It's a nightmare here in the UK and I can't keep on suggesting that my children go to Canada to work just to get my hands on the books, or 'selling' pictures from the scribbles to Canadian TV programmes in exchange for others I'm desperate to read. That was Gil Adamson's The Outlander long before it was published here, and on that subject, I hear film rights to that book have been optioned.
Giller Prize short-listed Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane built up a steady head of steam as the Booker long list announcement approached, with several of us giving it a seat on our own selection stack and I can only think that one of the panel was perhaps a stalwart of the Canine Defence League and ruled it out for reasons of cruelty to dogs, or perhaps cruelty to children, or cruelty to wives or daughters or rabbits or pheasants or trout because everything gets a walloping, a whipping or is skinned somehow somewhere along the way.
My early thoughts on the book here.
So that's your public health warning for Red Dog, Red Dog.
You know me, cast-iron stomach and I can cope with violence in fiction if it serves a purpose and reflects the realities of life. I've worked with enough victims of violence to know it happens and fiction requires that reality, but I'll often bail out of a book if it all gets too much or I think I'm not in a safe authorial pair of hands, so something good kept me reading here through the travails of Family Stark, 'a blight on the face of the earth', an insular, deeply damaged and dysfunctional family.
'Mother always said that they were a family and to her that meant the Starks looked after their own. What happened in the family stayed in the family.'
Brothers Eddie and Tom, now in their twenties, sons of alcoholic and violent father Elmer and down-trodden mother Lilian and all scraping a living out of virtually nothing against a backdrop of a small community and Eddie's large drug habit. As different as children can possibly be and for me this was one of the fascinations that kept me reading. Eddy spiraling out of control in a small-town community doesn't go unnoticed, the reflective and ever-loyal Tom listens and wait and tries to make sense of the life he has been given.
A lethal mix of poverty, madness and loneliness, blended with revenge, feuds and vendettas up in the backwoods of Canada in the grip of the 1950s depression and partly narrated by one of Eddie and Tom's dead baby sisters, all enough to give the book a gently, innocent, slightly surreal and ghostly point of view for a while before it merges seamlessly into the third person.
The death of the babies incidentally a quiet and thought-provoking sadness that could have kept me awake at night had I allowed it to, but I read it in the context of the whole and found it offered keen insights into Mother of the Starks that explained a great deal for me later in the book. There is much left unsaid and much for a reader to add here, and we might all add something different I suspect.
By now you may have gathered rightly that this is a tough, uncompromising book with few glimmers of joy.
One advantage of taking The Canadian Review of Books is for the reviews (obviously) and having gathered my own disparate thoughts together I've just read Marion Fraser's piece on Red Dog, Red Dog subtitled,
'Tender insight makes this tale of family cruelty bearable.'
I had written something very similar in the book as I read because I wasn't sure how I was sticking with it. It's a book that held a deep and inexplicable power to silence me as I withheld judgments on all this savagery and cruelty (repeat warning, if you adore dogs you might wince a bit...make that a lot) because somehow it's entirely possible to see beyond it.
This is life borne of desperation amongst a group of people in sad decline, tied to a way of life that demands they fit in and as Tom listens to his mother,
'You had to watch a long time to see through her words. You'd listen to her read aloud and then you'd read between the lines to find the story beneath her story, the one she'd hidden.'
I was doing exactly the same as I read this book.
Books written by poets often win me over unwittingly, they definitely do something out of the ordinary and this one is no exception, so when I then read more about Patrick Lane's life, the brutality of his childhood and his lifelong drug habit, his entry into rehab ten years ago, emerging to write an apparently beautiful memoir To Everything There is a Season documenting his first sober year in the last 45, I think I appreciated Red Dog, Red Dog even more.
How well that now chimes with Joan's comment on Monday's post on J.M.Coetzee's Summertime just how much does our knowledge about an author's life influence our reading of their books?