Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Sunday Book: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski

Ok, it's not Sunday but time is an illusion, lunch time doubly so. Roll with it and bonus points to everyone who gets the reference. I started The Story of Edgar Sawtelle ages ago, when I went up to Edinburgh at the end of January, but had to put it down when academic pressures mounted. Luckily it was very easy to come back to and I finally finished it last week. I know that books don't appreciate being abandoned like that but sometimes it is unavoidable.

I am going to keep this brief... It is ok. I would recommend it if you are a dog lover because there are lots of lovely puppy dogs. I Heart Puppies. There are many charming dogs charmingly portrayed and that is nice. If you are a cat person though I would say step away now. The dogs are the redeeming feature in the novel. The book is quite engagingly written and the plot is occasionally gripping but it is deeply flawed and the dogs are its real saviours. The flaw is, in a single word, Hamlet. There is no reference in the blurb to the Danish Prince but I was most unimpressed to realise 250 pages in that this is just another re-writing of the big H. It took me 250 pages to notice because Hamlet fades in and out of the novel. The bits without Hamlet are good, the bits with Hamlet are annoying, heavy-handed and generally a bit crap. Don't get me wrong, I love Shakespeare and Hamlet is an incredibly deep and psychologically interesting play, but I do not wish to be force fed Willy Shakes against my will! I study English Literature, I did not want my one non-course book of the term to try and clumsily sneak the Bard into my reading. Aside from my personal resentment the whole thing is just done quite badly. Hamlet just doesn't really suit the plot or style of this novel about dog-breeders and family resentments in the 20th century American hinterland. Yes, the novel and the play both feature family resentments but that doesn't necessarily make them a natural fit. The ending doesn't work at all and lots of the comparisons just feel very forced which is a pity because a) there are lots of nice dogs and b) there are the makings of a good book underneath the giant Bardic failure. Frustrating stuff.

Conclusion: Lovely dogs and novelistic potential overwhelmed by clumsy and unsuccessful use of Hamlet. Potentially some curiosity value but generally frustrating. Nice dogs though.

Chuck x

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