Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 2, 2016

Between a Wolf and a Dog, by Georgia Blain

between-a-wolf-and-a-dog The action of this book by Georgia Blain takes place over a single day – but as in real life, the past bleeds into the present…

Between a Wolf and a Dog seems like a curious name for an Australian book (because we don’t have wolves here and never did) so I Googled it and discovered via At Twilight that it’s a translation of the French expression entre chien et loup, an expression which means the twilight, when you can’t distinguish between a wolf and a dog, or, more symbolically, between friend or foe, between feeling safe or feeling threatened.

BEWARE: SPOILERS

One ought to feel safe within a family, but that’s not the case in this dysfunctional family.  There are two sisters, April – who is warm-hearted but flighty and feckless, and Ester, who is reserved and rather controlled.  She is a family therapist, and Blain uses this device to enable the reader to see how Ester reacts with calm and predictable responses to the tragedies of her clients.  It is not so easy for her in real life, however, because her sister has slept with her husband Lawrence and three years later, she is still not in the mood to reconcile.

Not welcome in this family for obvious reasons but still part of it because he is the father of Ester’s two school-age children, is Lawrence.  He has problems of his own.  He has been tweaking the findings of political polls – more from boredom than from malice – but his misdemeanours have just been discovered by a god-botherer with an assertive conscience.  It’s highly likely that Lawrence is going to lose his lucrative contract with the newspaper, not to mention his reputation.

For the sisters’ widowed mother Hilary, there is now an urgency about resolving this more-than-awkward situation.  Hilary has a terminal disease, and she wants her daughters to be there for each other when she is gone.  Like most of us, she wants to be able to control things from beyond the grave, and she wants her life tidied up the way that she has tidied up her cupboards.  She’s not above some emotional manipulation because her last film project is about her family, with shots of the sisters playing together and of the family all together in happier days.  She shows this film to Ester, the one who has the most to forgive.

More significantly, Hilary is fearing the pain and loss of control from a brain tumour, and she has decided that she is not going to wait for that to happen.

For most of Between a Wolf and a Dog the moral issues are mostly the ordinary human ones: forgiveness, the vexations of family life, and the need to own up to folly and take responsibility for it.  But Hilary’s decision takes the novel into darker territory.  Having acquired what she thinks is a means to end her life, Hilary makes a decision that has far-reaching ramifications.

For the reader the questions remain: who to tell beforehand without the risk that they might prevent the act and also avoid them being prosecuted; how to arrange the finding of the body afterwards to minimise distress; and how to manage the hurt of those who didn’t know beforehand and couldn’t say goodbye, and how to prevent them blaming the one who did know and didn’t tell them.  Hilary thinks she has a solution, but I bet book groups will argue about her choice long and hard.

This is why, as Andrew Denton says, we need urgent reform to enable dying with dignity.

PS Between a Wolf and a Dog has been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards.

Author: Georgia Blain
Title: Between a Wolf and a Dog
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2016
ISBN: 9781925321111
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: Between a Wolf and a Dog

 

 

 


Responses

  1. […] Georgia Blain Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe Publications), see my review […]

  2. I certainly hope I get to die with dignity! And quickly!
    I have a couple of (non-YA) Georgia Blains which I think I’d better re-read and review, it seem’s to be the only way I can remember them.
    (That’s quickly at the time, not necessarily quickly right now)

    • I find Georgia Blain variable. I really liked her early work (Candelo) but I feel that she got stuck in a bit of a thematic rut mid-career. (https://anzlitlovers.com/2009/09/25/the-blind-eye-by-georgia-blain/) But this one is a move away from the moody introspection into an issue that perhaps is personal and urgent for her (she has been reported as having a brain tumour). I think this is a good companion to The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam because it’s also about the people surrounding the person with the terminal illness. (See https://anzlitlovers.com/2016/09/28/the-easy-way-out-by-steven-amsterdam/ ) I hope it is on the crest of a wave where legislative reform is concerned. I believe that Victoria is looking at the issue now, though whether they can get reform through the upper house remains to be seen. There are still plenty of people who think they and their religion have a right to interfere with the right to die with dignity.

      Update 17/5/17 Kerryn Goldsworthy in her review of this novel at The Sydney Review of Books, (http://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/between-a-wolf-and-a-dog-georgia-blain/) says that this novel was finished and Blain was working on the edits when she was diagnosed. So what I’ve implied about the issue being personal and urgent for her is wrong.

      • I linked to the announcement about her brain tumour when I reviewed Special. Insensitive of me to forget it.

        • Don’t feel bad about it, it’s hard enough to remember everything about our own friends and families that we know f2f…

  3. I haven’t read your review yet, Lisa, because I plan to read this book in the next month. I’ll come back when I’ve done so. Glad to know the meaning behind the curious title though 😉

  4. […] a Wolf and a Dog. Scribe, 2016, see my review, shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards, the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and […]

  5. […] Between a Wolf and a Dog (Georgia Blain, Scribe) See my review […]

  6. […] Between a Wolf and a Dog, Georgia Blain, (Scribe Publications), see my review […]

  7. I frankly would do the same thing or similar as Hilary. I loved this book and am surprised you only gave it 3 stars. Were you disappointed in a way that didn’t come out in the review?

    • Hi Debbie, by coincidence I’ve just been discussing star ratings with Nathan Hobby on Twitter:
      I reserve 5 stars for books of genius, like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Shakespeare. By definition, these are rare and I haven’t awarded any for 2017 and only one for 2016 (Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus). When I see books like Harry Potter getting 5 stars, I feel depressed because it means that the reader thinks that’s the best that literature can be.
      I rate most things that I read either 3 or 4 stars. 4 stars means it’s a deeply satisfying book, beautifully and/or cleverly-written, and with something significant in its themes and preoccupations, and memorable. 3 stars means it’s a good, satisfying book and I thought it was worth reading, but it has some flaws or I just wasn’t very excited about it. These are often books that I enjoyed at the time but don’t remember very well a year after I’ve read them. (That’s the case with this one. I did think at the time that it was Georgia Blain’s best work, but, truthfully, I don’t now remember it very well).
      2 stars means *yawn* or badly edited or inane or just dull but I finished it. 1 star means I abandoned it or I thought it was really dreadful or loathsome. By definition 1 star and 2 star books are rare too, because I am mostly pretty good at choosing books I’ll like.
      Sometimes I don’t rate books because I didn’t like them because I don’t like that genre. Crime bores me to sobs, but it’s not fair to rate them as 1 or 2 star reads so I don’t rate them at all.
      But I have to admit that I haven’t always been consistent about all this: I know that I overrated some books at Goodreads when I first started using it, often based on teenage memories of having read it which is hardly a mature judgement on which to base a rating. I fix these when I come across them.

      However, as I said to Nathan, star ratings are so objective, while I rate my books for my own purposes at Goodreads, I don’t take any notice of aggregated star ratings, especially 5 star reviews for works of popular fiction like Twilight and Bryce Courtenay and so on, especially not those numerous books that get 5 stars “in exchange for an honest review” and especially not the 1 star reviews dished out to challenging books like Ulysses because they are thought to be “pretentious”.
      I take notice of intelligent, well-thought out reviews, on blogs and at Goodreads where I am judicious about whose reviews I follow. That’s what I use to make my judgements about what I’d like to read, and that’s my advice to everyone: find reviewers that you trust, and read what they say about the book. People who follow me know that I’m mean with my stars, and they adjust them accordingly!

      • Thanks so much Lisa. I use a similar system as well. I try and reserve 5 stars for the sort of books you mentioned but occasionally I will use them for a book that speaks to me personally. I also never use 1 or 2 stars for a similar reason as you. So I will see plenty of 1 or 2 star books and I don’t read them. Thats why I do only 3-5 stars, 10 star system would be so much better.

        • Yes, I often see people wishing they could award 1/2 a star.


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