BabyMac Book Club: Between a Wolf and a dog {The discussion}

Did you breathe a big sigh when you finished this book? I know I did, filled with sadness and hope and just plain life, I closed the book and said a little thank you to Georgia Blain for her book Between a Wolf and a Dog.

The title is taken from the french term for dusk – when the light is so dark just before nightfall and you could mistake a dog for a wolf. And as beautiful and poetic as this simple term is, it’s so perfectly fitting for this book.

I thought I would share my thoughts on this book…one that I picked up and put down too many times (hello life!) and one that I wished I had read in a few days or one sitting, gulping it down in all its sadness and beauty. I think I loved it! I mean, shit it was sad, but I mostly loved it.

The author Georgia Blain, died in December last year of her own brain cancer…I can’t remember if she knew that she was dying when she wrote it? Her own Mother who she was caring for who had alzheimer’s died just 3 days after her, so it makes it even more special? Beautiful? Sad? I can’t quite work out which. It was shortlisted for the 2017 Stellar Prize and won the Queensland & Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction.

THE SUMMARY

Set over a rainy day in Sydney the book explores the complexities and sadness of a family: Ester (mum of twins), divorced from her husband Lawrence is a family therapist that deals with everyday normal clients with their own issues. Her sister April who she is estranged from, her Mother Hilary, who is dying from cancer and about to make a decision that will affect them all.

It explores issues of life: love and death, making mistakes, sadness, forgiveness. It’s not a happy read, but it’s beautiful in its writing and narrative and sucks you in to an ultimate ending that is sad.

THE CHARACTERS

Ester I suppose is the main character, the one who is explored the most as the day is set around her job as a therapist. Her sister April is flawed and wishing for things that could have been for her. Lawrence too, riddled by his past and decisions he has made both now and in the past that have left him sad and lonely. And Hiliary their Mum, dying and spending her time remembering the good things she had in life. They are all sad characters in their own way, lonely and looking for love and connection. I didn’t particularly warm to any of them really – perhaps the Mum the most – with a few moments (when Ester was talking to herself as her own therapist) that made you feel something (empathy perhaps?!) towards them. I didn’t care for April, or Lawrence, or her children…I must say I thought that they reminded me of the family in Offspring who have always annoyed me. Maybe the fact that I kept reading it and then stopping for long periods of time didn’t help with this? I also think that the characters of the therapist office all bring a life lesson with each of their own stories…the secondary characters pointing out some sadness or tragedy that we needed to be reminded of, and as the book came to an end those characters became clearer (to me at least).

What did you think of the characters and their relationships with each other?
Who did you relate to most of all?
Did you wonder about them after you finished reading and wonder what happened to them all?

NARRATIVE

I loved Gerorgia’s writing style. It was poetic and easy to read and flowed beautifully in some sections. I loved the ending of the book the most I think…the tension that built as we moved towards the inevitable end…there seemed to be a point to the characters and their sessions at the end of the book. It was easy to flow between the now and then (I am still confused as to what Lawrence did that would have bought him down professionally). I loved the river house and the openness and fondness that every member of the family had for it…I felt the place.

What did you think of the chapter styles and flow of the story?
Did you think there was a good balance between then and now?
Did you find the writing beautiful at times too?

THEMES

There were some central themes in the book that stood out for me.

  • Humans, relationships and all the complexities that come with that. Aren’t we strange creatures? I loved the struggle of the family and characters to love and hurt each other. I loved the position that Hilary put Lawrence in…it was interesting don’t you think? I also so felt the client whose husband told her that he didn’t love her anymore. That scene was powerful I thought.
  • Mortality and grief – how we work through that. I particularly loved the Ester’s client who had lost his daughter and how angry he was at the past version of him. From page 204 “Because he had everything. He was blessed with an ordinary life. And he didn’t even know.” That really hit home for me…we are all just one moment away from our ordinary lives being turned upside down in one way. I also loved Hilary’s thoughts on life too – especially towards the end when she needed to focus on the now to steady her mind and remember. Those were my favourite parts of writing and ones that really hit home the most for me.
  • Forgiveness – how important to it. How the dramas and hurt we have in our lives that form who we are really at the end of the day don’t matter if it’s with the people that matter. This hit home for me personally.
  • Life and it’s simplicity. The ordinariness of life and how precious that is. I just loved how it made me think about that…and how poignant given that the author was dying herself.

What did you think were important themes in the book?
Any that you thought were particularly insightful/interesting?

I wish I had read this in one sitting rather than leaving it for such long stretches of time. It took away from the characters and the tension and the story. One day I will get my reading mojo back perhaps! While the characters were nothing amazing, and the story a simple one I loved the human flaws that we all have that it explored. I loved that it made me think about my own relationships and life and all that I have. That’s something. The tension towards the end was great and I loved the writing, so all up it was a winner for me. So sad and depressing, but a winner.

But I’d love to hear what YOU think! Did you enjoy the book? The characters? Themes? Narrative style? Plot?

I’m going to do a Facebook LIVE video tonight on my Facebook page (17th July 2017) at 8.30pm AEST (all things going to plan with 3 kids on my own) so come and join in and ask any questions or have a discussion there with me.

Comments

  1. Cheekie says:

    I loved the book.
    The story was sad. I disliked April, loved the mum and where she was at and how she handled life.
    Then I put the puzzle pieces together… of course Georgia Blain would write a great, intimate, moving, sad story, she was Anne Deveson’s daughter. What lives those two women had.

  2. I loved it! I dived right in and didn’t come up for air…and although when you break down the elements of the book it is sad, it was also thought provoking and beautiful.

    I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. And can see how you could imagine them to be like the Proudmans. I guess, I had a yearning for their problems to be solved…but that’s not real life. And maybe the realness and the rawness of the book is what also kept me captivated.

    I wanted to punch Lawrence in the face! It made me angry that he slept with his wife’s sister. Such a betrayal of someone who is meant to be your best friend with your sister. I know it takes two to tango, but he should have stayed away.

    I always wish for more when a story comes to the end. What happened when the sisters found out that their mum killed herself? What spiral did Lawrence spin down once all his work dried up? Did Ester fall in love again?

    Thanks for book club. I look forward to the next book.

  3. dirtgirl says:

    Beth, thanks for the heads up on this book, have managed to grab a copy today from Paddo Library, will make great reading on the train. Need a good book after several dismal books chosen through our monthly Book Club ( me thinks perhaps by a man 🤔)

    I remember reading about Georgia’s death last year followed so soon by her mum Anne, who I just loved to listen to. Truly a tragic family, makes you appreciate your own healthy life.

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