September 11, 2015

Book Review—The Girl with the Dogs by Anna Funder

Tess and her husband Dan have successful careers, three children, and live in a desirable if modest home in Sydney. Tess’ mother has passed away and her father is currently in a nursing home suffering from dementia. She suspects Dan may be unfaithful, a suspicion spurred on by her friends’ failed marriages. Amongst this Tess starts thinking about her youth in Europe and her relationship with Mitya, an artist. She leaves for a conference in London, and while there travels to Paris to see his latest exhibition and visit the path her life might have taken.

Funder contrasts the nostalgia of Tess’ father’s life, the seeming stability and certainty that came from a quieter simpler time, against the ever present life of the 21st century. Tess is confronted with the paradox that there was stability in her parents’ life despite the fragility of memory, yet in the modern world where social media, mobile devices and digital transfers record and haunt every moment there is nothing but instability. The fading of her father’s memories are more apparent than ever, with the family home being sold and his memories replaced by the latest pop Diva tunes. Tess desperately tries to counter this by attempting to revive another, abandoned life, one that is within her memories and away from the omnipresence of an i-Pad screen.

The resolution is a little too easy, too conservative, with the issue of infidelity easily quelled and the reuniting of the family resolving all. But that does not diminish the reverie in nostalgia that makes The Girl with the Dogs, with it fully embracing the loss and bittersweet spirit that defines that sensation.

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