Saturday, January 3, 2015

"The Lost Dog" by Michelle de Kretser

This is the first novel I have read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015. It was the winner of the 2008 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, Winner of the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Book of the Year, and longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. My Mum lent me this book to read.

While the title of the book suggests the story is about a lost dog, it is much more complex than that. The book is set around the 10 day search for the main character's dog, but the story jumps around a lot, both temporally and in terms of focus. While I found this frustrating and distracting in parts, the book is in fact beautifully written with lots of layers and secrets hidden within the characters and their pasts, some of which slowly unfold. Not only does the story involve the current issue of the fate of the missing dog, but also a previous darker mystery of a missing husband, who also disappeared into the bush. The book is set mainly in Melbourne, but also in an outback location where the dog goes missing, and from time to time we are also taken back to an earlier period in India.

This book is written beautifully, the language used sometimes poetic or literary in style, other times deliberately not so. The book is full of elusive but interesting characters that you never quite find out a clear picture of, mixed in with minute or intimate details of what sometimes seem to be irrelevant conversations or moments in time. Little glimpses into people's past histories, strange memories that were remembered from childhood, different ways of looking at everyday objects. Throughout the book there seems to be a fascination with objects that have become outdated, cast away without thought, but treasured, hoarded or turned into artwork by others: "...discarded and ephemeral yet caught in the tatters of memory"....."that period between nostalgia and novelty which contained objects once the height of fashion and now out of date".

My favourite character in the book is Nelly Zhang, an artist, a complex and perhaps unbalanced individual, with whom the main character has a long standing infatuation with, somewhat disguised in friendship. While I was really captivated and intrigued by the character of Nelly, you never really feel like you will understand her, and not quite sure if what you are seeing is the 'real' Nelly or just a shifting portrait of what she wants you to see of her. The following paraphrases a section where one character in the book tries to describe her to another: "There are so many aspects to Nelly.....there's a painting by Cezanne: Les Grandes Baigneuses. It's always reminded me of Nelly. Something about the way the figures melt into and out of each other, so that your perception of them keeps's brilliant, utterly brilliant. Also unsettling. And sad."   

Started reading: 3rd January 2015
Finished: 25th January 2015
My score: 7/10

Aussie Author Challenge stats: female author, new to me, fiction.


  1. Great review Sarah. I've read conflicting views about this title, but your analysis is definitely one of the more perceptive and considered ones. I really like the language in the quotes you've drawn out and the glimpses into peoples' pasts sounds really interesting to me.

  2. Thank you Jo :-) That's lovely of you to say.