There are two things I didn’t know about Georgia Blain when I picked up her book, Between a Wolf and a Dog – firstly, that she is the daughter of Anne Deveson (author, broadcaster, alzheimers sufferer) and Ellis Blain (broadcaster). Secondly, whilst writing this book she was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. Two extraordinary facts which I can now relate to the book Between a Wolf and a Dog, and appreciate it even more than I did before.
Apparently the title is based on the French phrase L’heure entre chien et loup. It refers to the twilight time when falling darkness makes clear vision impossible; dogs might be mistaken for wolves, friends for foes. An interesting and insightful thought on it’s own and an apt title for this book.
The story revolves around Hilary, the mother of two daughters, April and Esther, and Esther’s estranged and tragic ex-husband Lawrence. The story spans a long and rainy 24 hours of their lives, moving back and forward from stories of their youth and their lives that got them to where they were on that day.
I love stories about families, as it always reminds me to firstly cherish my own (!), and secondly, I love the relationships between siblings and parents. I find them fascinating and if there was a genre called “Families and their relationships,” that would be my favourite.
This family has their fair share of grief and unhappiness, and the book cleverly entwines the family’s past into their present without the need to follow dates or chapters as happens sometimes. Their past and their estrangement from each other creates a family, like all families, with scars, things forgiven and things not forgiven. It reminds me how well your family really knows you, above and beyond all others. Hilary is in her 70s, a successful filmmaker in her own right, widowed by her famous artist husband, and (like the author herself) has brain cancer. This ties the whole story together – how does Hilary choose to deal with this prognosis, can she also deal with her daughters’ estrangement from each other before she leaves this life. And how does the son in law come back into the story?
Interspersed with the story of this family are the stories of Esther’s patients. She is a therapist and throughout the book are her interactions with her patients, stories and issues that are just as heartbreaking as her own families’ stories. Dealing with grief, despair, loneliness and although emotional and heartfelt, I felt Esther was a little detached and insensitive (maybe that is how a therapist must listen to her patients’ woes?).
I also felt that somehow, even though I could sympathise with Esther over her separation and its coming about from her husband (Loser Lawrence I called him), and April’s desperate search for her creative soul, they both appeared to be written without sentimentality or emotion. I think that this is the authors’ style, and I rather like it. In fact, I really liked this book – the story almost like a greek tragedy, but beautifully written and thought provoking.