Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres

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Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Red Dog is a lovely little piece of modern folklore suitable for adults and younger readers just beginning to find their feet with books for grown ups. It follows its eponymous hero's adventure through Western Australia in a timeless tale of the littlest of lives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: October 2002
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 0099429047

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In our village, lives a cat called Felix. Ostensibly, Felix belongs to one of my neighbours. However, Felix is an itinerant cat. He belongs to no one. And yet, he belongs to everyone. We all feed him, we all pet him, and we all laugh at his antics. However, we none of us own him. Red Dog is such an animal; he belongs to everyone. And yet, he belongs to no one.

Red Dog, though, has more than a tiny village in Devon at his disposal. Red Dog has the vast expanses of Western Australia in which to indulge his restless spirit. Possessed of boundless energy, an inquisitive soul and an independent streak a mile wide, Red Dog is famous in the community. When the travelling bug bites, he goes to the bus station, hops into his seat right behind the driver, and away he goes. If there are no buses, then he simply waits by the road and hitches a lift. No one turns him down. He is Red Dog, after all. Red Dog's travelling is legendary, but so too is his appetite. He has been known to wolf an entire can of dog food in under nine seconds, although he prefers to filch sausages and steaks from those ubiquitous Australian barbies.

Louis de Bernieres' book traces its eponymous hero through anecdote and memory. For Red Dog was a real dog. Inspired by a bronze statue of him in the town where he lived, de Bernieres collected and collated all the many stories about Red Dog. We hear about his scrapes, his travels, his troubles. We hear too, about the land he inhabited and the people he knew. Some of the stories are funny. Some of the stories feel like a little slice of social history. Some of the stories are sad. Binding them together, making them flow is Red Dog himself: independent, stubborn, inquisitive, capricious, cheeky, and filled with wanderlust.

I seem to be one of the few left cold by de Bernieres' most famous creation, Captain Correlli and his Mandolin. I thought it was a dire, sentimental book. Red Dog could easily have been equally trite, but somehow it is not. It is warm, it is tolerant, it is evocative. It is full of imagery, but it clearly written in a way that is accessible to all. It brings to mind the sights, the sounds and the smells of Western Australia in huge, great blasts that I almost felt the heat as I read. I saw the shimmering mirages as they rose from the horizon. I felt the heavy, thick red dust on my skin. I understood the ancient rocks as they watched the pioneers, impassive. I appreciated too Alan Baker's beautiful, apt illustrations in sun-blinded blacks and hot reds and I smiled at the cheeky flick animation of Red Dog in the corner of each page.

More important though, for me, was the sense of community, of storytelling that pervaded its every page. If, like me, you are of the mind that all stories should be written down, that all stories are worth telling, then you will understand what I am saying. Reading Red Dog is as an evening spent in convivial company, in reminiscence, in anecdote, in the sharing of a good tale. It is part of those great folk traditions found in almost every society. These traditions understand the value of shared experience, shared memories, shared stories, all told and re-told by those who care for their community. They provide our continuity, our anchor and our guide. I am glad that the people of Dampier have a statue in honour of Red Dog. I am glad that the stories about him are still a part of spoken lore. And I am glad that de Bernieres has written them down for many more people to share. I hope too, that he is not the last to tell the stories about Red Dog.

Reviews of and publicity for Red Dog have confused me a little. Some seemed to think that the book was intended for "younger readers". Some suggested that the sad parts render the book unsuitable for children. And yes, some of it is sad. These prescriptions seem irrelevant to me. Red Dog is a small piece of modern folk lore and as such, it is open to all. That is its point. You do children a grave disservice if you believe that their hearts and minds are not ready for the sharing of such things. Moreover, you do adults an equally grave disservice if you feel that a short, clear, tender tale is beneath them.

Red Dog is... for all those who love dogs... for all those who love Australia... and above all, it is for all those who believe that everything we do and everything we are is contained within stories shared and passed down.

I loved it.

Like a colour change? Try Blue Dog by Louis de Bernieres.

Booklists.jpg Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres is in the Top Ten Books To Read In One Sitting.

Booklists.jpg Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres is in the Top Ten Books For Dog Lovers.

Booklists.jpg Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres is in the Top Ten Adult Books That Teens Should Read.

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tvsandford said:

Truely a great read!

Hev said:

A very accurate description of a truly remarkable story – funny, beautiful, poignant, sad, life affirming, moving. A timely reminder in these cynical days of what is really important in life – love, friendship, loyalty, between humans, and between humans and animals.