Blue Dog by Louis de Bernieres

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Blue Dog by Louis de Bernieres

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A delightful coming-of-age story set in the Australian outback. Read it for the story of how a young city boy copes in the outback or as a prequel to Red Dog: either way it's a story which will stay with you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144/2h39m Date: October 2017
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-1784704179

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Mick's mother had a mental breakdown after his father's death and Mick was sent to live in in the outback with Granpa. On the face of it you'd think that it was going to be a lonely life for an eleven-year-old city boy, with no school to attend, in fact no other children anywhere near. Granpa's busy too: life on a cattle station is brutal for anyone, with all the heat and the dust. But they've all got to make the best of the situation.

Granpa encourages Mick to live the life his father lived and it's a solace to the boy, bringing him closer to the man he's lost. He settles down with Granpa, Stemple, Jimmy Umbrella the Chinese cook, Taylor Pete the blackfella, Lamington the cat and Willy the blind horse. On his twelfth birthday Mick had been hoping for a phone call from his mother, but Granpa said not to expect it as she was too far gone. He did get a present from Granpa though - a thirty-year old motorcycle which he had to take apart and put back together again to get it working, with the help of Taylor Pete.

And then the cyclone came. For eight hours it screamed, then there was half an hour of silence before it screamed for another eight hours from the opposite direction and Mick realised why the buildings were chained down. On the morning after he made a life-changing find. At the muddy edge of the flooded land he saw what looked like an animal struggling to escape and then he heard the whimper. Mick was a compassionate boy and didn't like the thought of any animal dying, trapped in the mud with no shelter from the heat. It was a pup, a red cloud kelpie and with that strange logic which says that a bald man must be called Curly, Granpa decreed that the pup must be called Blue. Mick and Blue were inseparable from that day.

It's a glorious coming-of-age story and I read it in one sitting. We watch Mick mature from a nice but uncertain boy to a young man coping with his first feelings about girls - and the knowledge of what the feelings can make him do - in the year or so that he spends with his Granpa. He learns a great deal, but not much of it comes from school work, but rather from Taylor Pete, who teaches him about Aboriginal history and belief, his Granpa, who has a lifetime of accumulated wisdom and the beautiful Australian outback. It's a magical tale.

You can read Blue Dog as the story of Mick's coming of age, but there is a little more to it than that. The book is actually a prequel to a wonderful piece of Australian folklore, the much-loved Red Dog. Both were written primarily for pre-teens, but they're a delight to read whatever your age.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Blue Dog reminded me irresistibly of one of my favourite books of all time: Fup by Jim Dodge. We think you'll also enjoy The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting and Paul Russell Grant (Translator).

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