Review: Between a Wolf and a Dog

The Stella Prize shortlist celebrates the six best fiction and non-fiction books written by Australian women, noted for their excellent, original and engaging prose.

In the six weeks leading up to the winner’s announcement on April 18 Sinéad Fogarty reviews each of these books for Hatch.

This week, Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain.

Swilling pints of Georgia Blain’s prose in successive happy hours, a weekend was washed down with great swigs of this book. Come Monday, tipsy on her storytelling, I read it again for second breakfast. Like the marriage of maple syrup and bacon, Between a Wolf and a Dog blends the honeyed bubble of burgeoning love and beginnings with the saltiness of divorce and death.

The title of the book is borrowed from the French phrase “l’heure entre chien et loup”, which refers to the greying light of growing dusk when night begins to fall. Eyes grope in the gloaming, unable to distinguish between a wolf and a dog. Blain seizes upon this struggle, placing each of her characters in a bind which ruffles the rhythm of everyday life.

The bounteous bathe into the lives of one family introduces us to four protagonists, each given an equal swatch of a scene the length of a day. Hilary, the widowed matriarch, is harbouring a secret while tending to the perpetual friction within her family.

‘She is seventy years old and she has been loosening herself, trying to unpick the grip of life from her limbs, aware of how quickly time has been pushing her forward, shoving her now, relentless and sure, into this tiny space – the last moments – where she needs more strength than she has ever needed before.’

Her oldest daughter April had early success as a musician, yet her inability to scale those heights again, and forfeit her flailing potential, has lead her into a pot-holed existence – never quite finding her feet.

‘As she lowers herself into the bath, she feels the disarray of her life in every limb, a jangling switchboard, all wires knotted and unplugged.’

Youngest daughter Esther, a psychologist, seeks counsel for her own fractured relationships. While the splinter of her divorce two years ago continues to sting, she is finally skipping stones into a lake of new love.

‘…she had felt it for an instant– the sparkling brightness of the moment– and it had made her look down at the carpet, his shoes, her boots, the stolid ordinariness of them not quite enough to ground her.’

Which finally brings us to Lawrence, Esther’s ex-husband. He is, well, an arsehole. No quotes needed.

Beginning with the first dregs of sunlight on a Sydney morning, the ambiguous outcome of their decisions is left for you to ponder – or page through again to clasp upon any missed clues. Like lashings of thick gravy on a Sunday roast, this generous novel is the warm hug of comfort food, reminding us that everyday battles can be won by simply letting go. – Sinéad Fogarty

Between a Wolf and a Dog
By Georgia Blain
Published by Scribe Publications, 257pp. RRP $30

About Sinead Fogarty 18 Articles
Sinéad Fogarty is a Sydney-based writer and video journalist, interested in unearthing stories full of quirk and character. You'll often find her with her head in a book, or with ice speed skates on her feet.