Combined Reviews: The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser

lost_dog.jpg Reviews of The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. It won the Australian Literature Society's Gold Medal, and the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction, as well as the Book of the Year Award.]

Ursula Le Guin in "The Telegraph": "There is no feminine for 'avuncular', but there ought to be. I want, in auntly fashion, to praise Michelle de Kretser for being good and beautiful, while scolding her for being afraid to show her goodness and beauty. What do you want to hide behind all that face-paint for, child? Do you think you have to be as skinny as a pencil and wear a ring in your navel just because other people do? The fashionable disfigurements and artificialities I complain of are, of course, literary, and they affect not her, but her novel, The Lost Dog...Kretser's native style is clear, vigorous, sensitive to mood and cadence, and strongly narrative - an excellent tool for a novelist with a story to tell."

Alison McCulloch in "The New York Times": "This book's insights
are at times so thickly layered as to leave character, story and reader gasping for light and air. Which isn't to say they're necessarily bad insights. More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. Consider her observation on 9/11: 'Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky.'...As de Kretser showed with her second novel, The Hamilton Case, her forte is illuminating the lives of such 'leftovers of empire', and she provides more of those delights here. But this novel also continues a steady move away from the concrete world of places and events toward the human interior."

A.S. Byatt in "The Financial Times": "This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story...This writing is new and constantly surprising, without being showy or quirky. It is exact, like Penelope Fitzgerald; it is strange, like Patrick White."

Dara Horn in "The Washington Post": "While the plot is subtle, the book's musings on modernity are anything but. Nearly every page offers observations on how contemporary Western life attempts to efface the past: faddish dress, gentrified neighborhoods, the disposability of old technology."

Mary Philip in "The Courier-Mail": "In many ways this book is wonderfully mysterious. The whole concept of modernity juxtaposed with animality is a puzzle that kept this reader on edge for the entire reading. The Lost Dog is an intelligent and insightful book that will guarantee de Kretser a loyal following."

Jane Shilling in "The New Statesman": "Ranging between the present and events of the past, whose convergence has led her protagonist to his crisis, de Kretser pursues ideas of exile, loss, disappointment, mortality; the nature of happiness and also of evil; the relation between humanity and beastliness; the significance of objects, both present and remembered; the means by which we conjure and protect identity; the shared characteristics of words and shit; ideas of duty, responsibility and attachment -- and much more."

Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph": "The Lost Dog, we are told at its conclusion, 'draws directly and obliquely on works by Henry James'. This is a risky ploy, with two obvious pitfalls: the hubris involved in setting your prose in comparison with that of the Master; and the fact that, in the reams of James's thoughtful literary criticism, there are likely to be all sorts of strictures that can be used against you."

Carmen Callil in "The Observer": "This is my favourite kind of novel. It is full of incident and character, tells a gripping story, has many touches of brilliance and can make you laugh and wonder. But it is also mightily flawed...These lapses aside, the language is full of light, colour and precise observation and, better still, the author can handle ethical and political concerns with a light touch."

Short Notices

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog: "It's one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That's what I loved about it. The writing. The writing was quite lovely."
Despite some reservations, Dan Dervin concludes that the novel "delivers on its intriguing premises".
Estelle at "3000 books" thinks this books has helped her re-evaluate her view of Australian literature: "Considering the lyricism with which De Kretser conveyed this multi-generational tale, it was with no regret that I renounced my
antipathy for Australian fiction. Even a sometimes awkward approach to dialogue enhanced her considered inquiry into personhood, revealing conversation for its brutal, dissembling self."
dovegreyreader: "Layers of significance build and build and I was constantly in awe of Michelle de Kretser's style and skill, the very right words
in exactly the right order. Even that point when you might expect a book to take a bit of a yawn as it rests and gathers itself to regroup for that push to the final page, well Michelle de Kretser just pulls out even more stops and stuns all over again, the book dazzled and sparkled for me from start to finish."

Robert Dessaix on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show" from November 2007.
Fiona Gruber interview in "The Sydney Morning Herald" from November 2007: "It is, in part, a commentary on the sanitised world in which we
live, where the old, the sick and the imperfect are made to feel useless, invisible. 'We have an obsession with bodies in the West but there is a denial of bodily-ness,' de Kretser argues, saying the obsession with fitness and control of appetites is unsensual. Our animality is something we have become disgusted by, she says. Perfect teeth, straight strong limbs and glowing skin form the template that separates the Western physical orthodoxy from a more diverse cast in less affluent countries."
Rosemary Neill interview in "The Australian" from March 2008: "De Kretser says the praise and prizes her novels have attracted 'increase un-confidence, if that is the word'. When her second novel was released, she was worried it wouldn't live up to the success of the first. Now she is uneasy that The Lost Dog -- to be published in Australia, the US, Britain and Italy -- won't match the achievements of The Hamilton Case. 'The only thing I know at the end of a novel is how to write that novel; that knowledge doesn't transfer across to the next one,' she says soberly."
In conversation with Gail Jones at the 2008 Sydney Writers' Festival in May 2008.


Ampersand Duck is a blogger living in Canberra who just happened to be the designer for the Australian edition of the novel. (Check out the bookcover at the top of this post, and then have a look at the pedestrian version that appears on the English edition as reproduced with Carmen Callil's review in "The Observer".) Fascinating stuff.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 26, 2008 9:26 AM.

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