Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hamlet--But With Dogs

As soon as I concluded my thesis writing and defense, I snatched up the nearest book I could find. That book was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, one I had purchased with Christmas money based on Donna's recommendation*.

I had heard the book was a sort of modern Hamlet. The book certainly contains similar elements to Shakespeare's play, but it also extends those themes into the relationships between humans and their dogs. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle tells of the boy Edgar, who was born without a voice and whose parents breed and train dogs. These dogs are special, special because of the vision that Edgar's grandfather had to breed a dog who is a true companion, not merely a useful work animal.

The book plays on themes of love, of soul-mates, and of revenge. The novel too focuses on language: since Edgar cannot speak out loud, he must communicate via different avenues, including his beloved dog, Almondine. Yet he is obsessed with words and language, and he is given the responsibility of naming all the pups in the Sawtelle kennel. His relationship with language is entirely physical, enacted through written and signed forms, embodied by his well-worn dictionary. His inability to communicate verbally underscores the ways other characters in the novel are unable to speak, even though they have the power of speech.

I don't really want to give too much away of the plot, but Wroblewski was able to get me to really care about the characters in deep and complex ways. I wasn't completely repulsed by the story's villian because Wroblewski didn't completely villainize him, writing a complex character that a reader could be drawn to in spite of herself. The writing was vivid and well-paced; though long, the novel read quickly and concluded well.

I'm glad I read this book, and I look forward to loaning it out. My next book is The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I picked up this weekend on a lark because I liked the cover art** and thoroughly enjoyed the first two chapters. I do enjoy being able to read for pleasure again!

*I like knowing that I have people who can really recommend good books and movies to me. I've liked nearly everything that Donna has recommended. Thanks to her, I purchased Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
**The book was illustrated by Carson Ellis, who is also the artist responsible for The Decemberists' albums and is married to Colin Meloy, their lead singer.

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