I need to start by saying that Red Dog by Louis de Bernières is one of those rare books that I recommend to #ALLTHEPEOPLE (and ‘animal stories’ aren’t really my thing). So from the outset, Blue Dog was a big collar to fill.
I also need to start with the Afterword. Blue Dog came about after the success of the film version of Red Dog, when the producer approached de Bernières with ideas for a prequel. It was suggested that the story be novelised, for dual release with the Blue Dog film. Initially, de Bernières resisted – “I was hostile about it, as I am far too grand and snobbish to turn other people’s stories into novels…” but he liked the script, loves the Pilbara and loves red cloud kelpies, hence Blue Dog.
Blue Dog focuses on Mick, who arrives in the Pilbara to live with his Granpa on a remote cattle station. After a cyclone hits, Mick finds a lost puppy and the pair become inseparable –
“And the dog’s called ‘Blue’.”…
“But he’s red!”
“That’s why he’s called Blue. If you’re short, you’re called Lofty; if you’re black, you’re called Chalkie; if you’re bald, you’re called Curly; if you’re fat, you’re called Slim; if you’re red, you’re called Blue. Everybody knows that son.”
As much as de Bernières may have loved the Blue Dog story, it felt very much aimed at young readers. While the multiple plot lines and constant action contributed to a broader theme (Mick learning to love his home in the Pilbara), it lacked the emotional depth of de Bernières’s other stories. Red Dog, also intended for young readers, managed to strike a deep and powerful chord with adults – Blue missed that mark for me. Nonetheless, it’s a charming a story, chock full of colourful vernacular (with a terrific glossary of ‘Australianisms’ included so that you can sort your bickies from your boondocks) and a satisfying ending.
3/5 A lovely choice for the ten-year-old in your life.
I received my copy of Blue Dog from the publisher, Knopf Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Mick eats some interesting sandwiches –
‘…he made a real pigsnout sandwich*, with Vegemite, ham, tomatoes and marmalade.’
*a pigsnout sandwich is a huge sandwich, fit for when you’re feeling greedy.