Between a Wolf and a Dog

This book is life itself.  Clear-eyed and pure, painful and starkly beautiful.  Sometimes horror occurs and puts things into perspective.  Sometimes a poet comes along who reflects the world you know, or the world you are scared of, with such truth and light that you cannot look away.  Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog is a remarkable piece of writing.

It is one rainy day in Sydney.  Ester is a family therapist with a full appointment book of clients experiencing the anxieties and griefs of contemporary life.  Lawrence is her ex-husband, estranged; April her sister, also estranged; and their mother is Hilary.  This story is about not just these people on this day, but all the massive and tiny things that get these relationships to where they are in this moment; “the ways we love and harm one another”.

It is hard to summarise the strength and impact of this book.  I read it in a single evening, unable to let it go, and afterwards was left reeling.  The complexity of the characters, the reality and crispness of the observations, the subtlety of the storytelling, the layers of depth and light and shade.  In a way, the consciously theatrical setup of a single day full of rain was is an appropriate choice for balance because the world that exists in that frame is so far reaching into the contemporary conditions of humanity that we need a constraint.

While all in this cast are richly realised, it is Hilary who hit me the hardest.  With her husband, Ester’s and Alice’s father, dead for a few years, she is at a natural stage for reflection and decision.  It was a full, stunning life: she is a talented and ferocious artist, a warrior mother, a thoughtful listener, who is discerning with her affection, and a woman who in her own right has simply run out of fucks to give.  What a terrifying, wonderful hero.  And she emerges as a key pivot point in the story for everyone.

And this is part of Blain’s talent: the surprises that emerge, or the dread that doesn’t manifest.  There is no showiness in her storytelling but the skill is brilliant.  When you think you have a direction picked, Blain surprises you and this feels real as well to the life she is meditating on.

It is all done in such powerful prose that I’m struggling to extract a moment for a quote: they are all full moments, and almost inseparable from their surroundings.  There was writing that took my breath away; I found myself sometimes lightly touching the page with my fingertips in an attempt to add another sense to take it all in.  For example, the almost indiscernible thrill of “…the sparkling brightness of the moment…” when the possibility of a romance is glanced upon with someone new.    There is no false sentimentality here, but crisp and vivid, the acceptance of flaws not a favour but a fact.

Simply, Blain is an unfathomably talented writer.  It is a wondrous, brilliant book.  Read it and weep.


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