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Red dog, Red dog

I've just finished Red dog, Red dog, by Patrick Lane. Set in British Colombia in 1958 it covers a week in the lives of brothers Tom and Eddy Stark, and their parents, Elmer and Lilian. But to say it covered a mere week would be wrong, for Lane produces, here and there, every piece of the jigsaw that makes up the lives of these four individuals. The novel is narrated by one of Tom and Eddy's dead sisters, Alice, named after Elmer's beloved sister. Two girls died in infancy because Lilian was unable to form sufficient bonds with them. It seemed to me a combination of post-natal depression and mysogyny. She wanted no girls. But then she didn't really want Tom either, only Eddy, with whom she has a relationship that is unnaturally close. The device of using the dead sister as narrator was neither credible or needed, which was the only criticism I have. I mostly forgot there even was a narrator, reminded only at points. Lane, a poet, spent 'years' penning Red dog, Red dog - he thanks his wife for putting up with him during this time, which hints strongly at a hard slog. It was worth it. It is a novel with prose as beautiful and vivid as its setting and prospects of the characters are barren. Lane excels at evoking deep sadness and resignation, achieving these through the most finely tuned descriptions; he depends heavily on metaphor and simile, which are mostly perfect and offers either a welcome defamilisrisation that allows us tonsee something anew, or with a sharper clarity.

We are given characters who are deeply flawed yet who are damaged by harsh lives. Tom is noble; he wants more. His mother has long since given up. And Eddy is hooked on heroin, following a traumatic and abusive year at a boys borstal. It is heart-rending, and in many ways resembles Brian Hart's Then Came the Evening, although it's truer to say Hart's book resembles Lane's, as Red dog was published earlier. It received great acclaim and the encomiums that litter the cover and inside are all deserved.

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