August 07

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As reading is a journey

As reading is a journey, often without a known destination, and sometimes involves being where we shouldn’t be or don’t belong.  Here are three of my favourite books about a particular time and place.  They represent a place I lived in, a place I travelled to and a place I hope never to find myself and each have that element of not being where you should be.


red dogRed Dog
by Louis De Bernieres is set in the company owned town of Dampier, Pilbara, Western Australia.  It is a strange place, as most people are there for the work, it is not pretty to the Western eye, however, when that red dust gets into your blood you can never be the same.  The story was written as a children’s book and the economy of language used draws the reader quickly into the characters and the place.

The main character is Red Dog, who is not actually red, but the dust has covered him for so long that no-one actually knows what colour he should be.  As with most of the humans in the story, he is very independent, does not have a lot of social graces, knows how to work the system and is up for a laugh.  John is the one person he does bond with, and most people with dogs know that very often they choose us, and when the bond is broken it is a hard read.

There has been criticism of this book that it is not authentic and the stories aren’t believable, but having lived in Dampier as a child (during the time of Red Dog) for me it captured that sense of place where the ground is red, the sea and sky is blue, the salt mountain is white and it is either hot or bloody hot.  This is not a book about the history of the area and the impact of mining, it is a reminder that character counts and sometimes that is best told by a dog.

The Italian Chapel by Philip Paris is set on the Orkney Island of Lamb Holm, one of a group of islands in the North Atlantic between the north of Scotland and the Shetland Islands.  During World War II Italian prisoners of war were sent to Camp 60 after being captured in North Africa.  I have been to Lamb Holm and there it is, a building that is in the wrong place, yet there it is.

Philip Paris was inspired to write his novel after a visit in 2005 and to bring to life the story of the 500 POWs from the Mediterranean, who had been fighting in North Africa and find themselves on an island that has no trees, wind and nothing they can relate too.  During the day they build the Churchill Barriers at Scapa Flow, part of the WWII defence system, at night they do the best they can to contain their despair and worries about their families, the arrival of a priest gives them the direction to create the Italian Chapel.

Interactions with the locals of Lamb Holm and brings the characters together well and as with Red Dog this is very much a character and place driven story that the skill of the writer makes it accessible.


adriftAdrift on an Icepan
is the personal account of Wilfred T Grenfell in 1909 is a doctor in  northern Newfoundland and when journeying across to a young patient he cuts across thawing bay and finds himself adrift with his dogs. This telling moved me because it is in the voice of Wilfred and hasn’t been modernised, so when he is doing what needs to be done to survive and says it is ‘best to keep at work as it stops philosophising’, I can easily imagine that Victorian stoic, matter of fact attitude that is rarely acknowledged today.  That he is the creator of his own difficulty is honestly accepted.

I lucked onto this browsing through Overdrive, it is a short listen, but worth the time.