I’ve never really read a book like this before. It’s strange, poetic, sad, ambitious, powerful, and, as a debut novel by a young Irish author, it’s quite extraordinary.
It’s a love story; one about a love between a man and a dog, a story often told, yet there are no cliches in this book. Ray, a 57-year-old man, is a social misfit who alone lives in his father’s ‘salmon pink house’ in a small coastal village. His father is dead, yet Ray still wears his slippers and puts out two towels in the bathroom. Considered feeble-brained by his father, Ray never went to school and was looked after all day by ‘Aunt’ while his father worked at a factory. He knows his mother is dead and presumes she died giving birth to him.
As an antidote to his loneliness, Ray adopts a dog he sees advertised in a shop window and he says:
‘You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. You’re sellotaped to the inside pane of the jumble-shop window. A photograph of your mangled face …’
The book continues in this style, with Ray talking to his dog, who he names One Eye. It is an extraordinary device as it allows Baume to ‘show’ us, the readers, his as he describes it to his dog. We learn about Ray’s growing up, the village he lives in, the mysteries he questions, and the countryside which Baume describes in glorious detail.
‘Now follow me down the slope, through the ferns and furze, to the beach. Here at sea level, the grass turns sharp and straggly. It gives way first to an uneven row of hefty pebbles, desiccated bladderwrack, drift junk, and now sand. Have you ever seen a beach before? I don’t expect so. What do you make of it?’
We gain insights into Ray’s questioning mind – and there so much he ponders upon – and the utter loneliness he has experienced throughout his life.
‘Don’t you ever wonder what exactly people do all day long, every day? ... Secure inside their magnolia dens with the Venetian blinds tilted, what do they do? I can imagine; I do imagine, but my father and Aunt are the only people I’ve ever actually been shut behind a door with, before you.’
One Eye is also a social outcast, ugly and suspicious. He’s lost an eye and had his lip torn by a badger; his face is scarred, and he doesn’t fit it in his social circle either, attacking dogs with no provocation. He first goes for a collie when Ray takes him for a walk, and the second time he attacks a little shih tzu on the beach:
‘You’re braying, braying, braying a bloodthirsty bray. It seems to come through every pore of your bandy body. So this is your kill noise, I’ve heard it only in murmurs before, but now here it is in its furious zenith.’
When an inspector comes to the house to take One Eye away, Ray, in his fear of losing his only companion, packs up a few things and they drive away, not to return home for months. When Ray finally runs out of money and food, they have to return home and circumstances force Ray to act as he does at the end of the book.
This novel is suffused with a sadness and an edge of loneliness, yet the friendship between the dog and human is so palpable that there is hope throughout it. Baume’s writing is poetic and descriptive and her words are used in an inventive way, so much so that at times I reread sentences, just to savour their loveliness and often unusual structure.
In the beginning, it’s possible to be reminded of Mark in’The Curious Incident Of the Dog in the Night-time’, as Ray has hints of autism, yet that is the end of any similarity between the books. This is somewhat dark and very mature book with a truly unique style that makes it a pleasure to read.