The Lost Dog
Michelle de Kretser
Little, Brown & Co., 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
The Lost Dog
, Michelle de Kretser carries her readers on lyrical dreamlike prose back and forth in time, and between India and Australia (aspects of whose cultures are often compared). Her narrator, Indian-Australian professor Tom Loxley, is writing a book on Henry James and is involved in a relationship - that hovers somewhere between friendship and unrequited love - with the enigma that is accomplished artist Nelly Zhang.
elly is at the center of a community of artists, who live in rented studios in the
, once a textile mill. She also owns a house in the bush, which she rents to Tom to work on his book. While he's there, his beloved dog runs off, trailing a long rope lead - hence the novel's title. Tom's unfolding introspection introduces us to his parents - English Arthur Loxley who was a clerk in Mangalore, and beautiful Eurasian Iris de Souza - who met and married in India, but fled to Australia in 1972 in search of work. Iris, now suffering from arthritic knees and increasing incontinence, lives next to Arthur's sister Audrey, who never lets either Iris or Tom forget what they owe her for her assistance.
s Tom grows closer to Nelly, he worries at what he doesn't know about her. He discovers that she was once married to Felix Atwood, a trader in bonds who, just after he came '
under investigation for irregular dealing
' disappeared and was never found. She has a grown son but who was the father? And what prompted the paintings she exhibited at the time of Felix's disappearance that critics hailed as
? All of these developments play against the constant search - that forms the backbone of the book - for Tom's lost dog.
hough we do learn the dog's fate, there's no real resolution to this novel, which simply ends as Tom stops sharing his musings. What I got from
The Lost Dog
was mainly a commentary on the inscrutability of human relationships in contrast with the loyalty of the canine. But it's well worth the read for the wonderful insights the author tosses out along the way, like '
Imitation is the trace of a compulsion to consume another; it proceeds by assimilation and regurgitation
' and '
Democracy had become a giant factory outlet. It was as if endless wealth had been converted by a malicious spell into endless want.
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