Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.
Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the woes of the middle class. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Ester wants to be able to let herself fall in love again. Meanwhile, April and Lawrence are battling through their own messy lives, and Ester and April's mother, Hilary, is facing the most significant decision she'll ever have to make.
Taking place over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a novel about dissatisfactions and anxieties in the face of relative privilege. Yet it is also a celebration of the best in all of us — our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art. Ultimately, it is a joyous recognition of the profound beauty of being alive.
Caroline Baum's Review
There is so much sadness around this book, both real and imagined: Georgia Blain was recently diagnosed with a fatal kind of brain tumour. It is surely no coincidence that this book is pervaded with death - although in the novel, the woman doing the dying is Hilary, an older woman, the matriarch of the family, mother to two estranged sisters April and Ester. And because Blain's mother is none other than the much loved and respected journalist Anne Deveson, who went public with her diagnosis of dementia a while ago, it is tempting to see this fiction as Blain's version of how things might have been, had her mother had the capacity to take the end of her life into her own hands.
But no matter whether the story is personally close to the truth, it is told with great intelligence, sensitivity and nuance, in prose that beautifully captures the messes we make of our lives and our unpreparedness for the blows that are inevitably going to come. At times it reminded me of the way Margaret Drabble writes about British middle class family life, combining the smallest domestic detail with big questions and moral themes.
I wish the book, set over one rainy day in Sydney but punctuated with scenes set in the past, did not come freighted with such a huge burden of impending loss, because it is a distraction from the really accomplished poise and maturity in Blain's writing, in the scenes of sisterly rivalry and tension and in all the dynamics that makes families such intense nests of unspoken resentment, mistrust, grudges and human folly. One of her best creations is the character of Lawrence, who works as a pollster. Blain makes him professionally foolish in a completely plausible way.
About the Author
Georgia Blain (born 1964) is a contemporary Australian novelist, journalist and biographer.
'[A]n elegant novel, written in lucent and, at times, luminous prose. It is a work of delicately detailed emotion and beautiful balance, and it is so well paced that its narrative is utterly compelling. It is a remarkable portrayal of family relationships, and the complex and often competing desires and sensitivities that drive them, but it is mostly a book about love and forgiveness, and holding on to our good fortune and our loved ones, even and especially in the face of loss. It is heartfelt and resonant, and a remarkable novel that lingers long after its final page.' -Weekend Australian;'Blain just gets better and better. The clarity, warmth, and precision of Between a Wolf and a Dog brings to mind the formal beauty of an exquisitely cut gemstone. Blain looks at the big questions - mortality, grief, forgiveness - through the lens of one family's everyday struggle to love each other. This portrait of marriage and work, of sisterhood, mothers, and daughters is resolute and clear-eyed; so commanding and beautifully written it made me cry.' -Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things;'[An] elegant, intelligent and affecting novel from a writer at the height of her powers.' -The Saturday Paper;'Heartfelt, wise, and emotionally intelligent, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a beautifully tender exploration of the complications of family love, self-knowledge, and the struggle for forgiveness.' -Gail Jones, author of A Guide to Berlin;'Blain is a writer of such lucidity and strength that her characters speak, undeniably, for themselves ... What makes it possible to contain tragedy in words, so that the reader enters into the experience and passes through it, cleansed? The Greek playwrights had their own answers to this question; but the question, I suspect, is far older than their version of it. Each generation of authors must find the right words for writing about death. Part of the reason Between a Wolf and a Dog succeeds so well is that everything in the novel is heartfelt without being in the least sentimental.' -Sydney Morning Herald;'What a marvellously clear eye Georgia Blain has for the ways in which we love and harm one another. Whether she is observing a "coconut-ice" grevillea or meditating on everyday consolations and sorrows, Blain is a quietly profound writer and this is a remarkable book.' -Michelle De Kretser, author of Questions of Travel;'Between a Wolf and a Dog is an elegantly told story describing the ambiguities within human relationships. Each evening, when my children slept, I would enter the world of this book - coming to know a flawed, courageous, and creative family of characters, as they struggled to be good, to be whole, and finally, to let go.' -Sofie Laguna, author of The Eye of the Sheep