RED DOG

Louis de Bernieres, Author, Alan Baker, Illustrator
Louis de Bernieres, Author, Alan Baker, Illustrator . Pantheon $21 (128p) ISBN 978-0-375-42155-6
Hardcover - 124 pages - 978-0-676-97391-4
Paperback - 56 pages - 978-0-19-479083-3
Paperback - 128 pages - 978-0-676-97462-1
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The best stories about animals are really stories about the people who form bonds with them, and therein lies the central fault of this extremely slender effort from the celebrated author of Corelli's Mandolin. Apparently, de Bernières was so taken with a statue of a sheepdog he found in an unnamed town in Australia that he had to uncover the sources that fed the local legend. He transformed them into this picaresque narrative, a series of tall tales, written in a self-consciously folksy style about the animal known variously as Red Dog, Tally Ho and Bluey. Because de Bernières anthropomorphizes him, Red Dog comes across as all too human, while the people who know and love him are mere stick figures; the author acknowledges he "invented" them—and it shows. While the dog does possess an uncanny ability to make his wants and needs known (more probably, it's the uncanny predilection for humans to interpret the dog's various "communications"), these tall tales simply aren't tall enough. To be effective, the anecdotes that make up the book should be surprising, amazing or at the very least delightful, but Red Dog's adventures are mundane. The dog is clearly meant to evoke the pioneering Australian's conception of himself: independent, resourceful, footloose and stubborn. Red Dog is also prone to aggressive flatulence, presumably not an element of the Australian character. No doubt there was an Australian sheepdog that was well-loved by a circle that transcended a single family or even a town, but it's a stretch to turn that idea into a book, even one as slight as this one. Dog lovers might bite, but other readers should beware. The book is charmingly illustrated by Alan Baker, and includes a useful glossary of "Australianisms." (Sept.)

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