Books, Fiction, Reviews

Book review: Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

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Georgia Blain’s new novel Between a Wolf and a Dog is a quietly accomplished novel written with a curious mix of tenderness and detachment that offers a brief glimpse into a turning point in a family’s life.

The story is brimming with feelings of love, betrayal and the tremors emitting from a mother’s huge decisions that will upend her daughters’ lives. Despite this fire at the heart of the book, Blain tells the story in a calm and measured way; the kind of style her protagonist, a psychologist named Esther, must strive for on her better days in practice.

Esther is working through her divorce from an aspiring musician manchild, Lawrence, who is about to see his professional career collapse. The pair share two twin girls, as well as intense and dysfunctional relationships with Esther’s freewheeling musician sister, April. The final key character, perhaps the most powerful, is Esther and April’s mother Hilary, a video artist, who is struggling with one of the biggest decisions of her life.

Blain’s emotionally reserved style and her topic — a Sydney family whose crisis takes place largely across one day — means there are few shocking reveals and no sudden twists. Instead, it’s a slowly unfurling narrative.

Between a Wolf and a Dog is a carefully constructed and beautifully embroidered story that wraps itself around its readers.

Perhaps its only flaw is that the characters and their issues are cut from a far more common cloth than Blain’s considerable talent could command. A tightly wound psychologist with a messy and musical sister is an easy duality to explore, but obscures the depth of insight and detail Blain has invested in each character’s development.

The most engaging moments of the novel are when the characters’ relationships erupt, either on the day the novel is set in or in the lengthy flashbacks that give the novel emotional heft. Esther is estranged from both her husband and her sister, and holding her anger close.

April is lost and confused, and their mother Hilary’s life is accelerating towards her decision.

For a story sodden in the everyday pains of life, Blain’s keen sense of what drives people is once again on display in this, her sixth novel. The characters feel very much like people we all know, living through experiences many readers will have struggled with themselves. The author’s restrained and relatively non-judgemental treatment of her flawed but hopeful characters makes the book poignant rather than painful.

This coolness of approach is offset by Esther’s clients. From a tightly controlled woman who wears only black and longs for love to one festooned with coloured beads and batik shawls who tells heartbreaking stories, the novel highlights the elements of our lives we might personally paint out of the picture of ourselves.

While any synopsis and most descriptions of the novel could risk sounding banal, Blain’s glimmering prose frames these difficult moments of her characters as art rather than angst, making the book a moving and quietly reassuring force in its readers lives.

Between a Wolf and A Dog is published by Scribe

You can buy the book here

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