Readers familiar with the epic sweep of Louis de Bernières' previous novels, and especially his phenomenally successful Captain Corelli's Mandolin, might be shocked by this small volume of (literally) shaggy dog stories. But those who have enjoyed the humour of those same novels will appreciate this sleeker, slimline de Bernières.
In 1998, de Bernières visited the mining towns of Western Australia and stumbled across a bronze statue of Red Dog (1971-1979) outside Dampier. Inspired by this legendary canine, he made another visit, collecting the stories of his life and gently fictionalising them. We follow Red Dog, the itinerant, resourceful, if flatulent hero ("a real dag of a dog") as he seduces all who meet him at Hamersley Iron Transport. After his early residence with New Zealander John is cut short by John's untimely death, however, Red Dog undertakes "his greatest adventures" with "absolute liberty", criss-crossing the country with amazing ease, becoming the "Pilbara Wanderer, the Dog of the North-West, who belonged to everyone because he couldn't find the one he loved the most, and wouldn't settle for less".
Whether undermining the Hitlerian trailer-park managers, or hitch-hiking from Perth, Red Dog always comes up trumps. Dealing with his hero's inevitable decline, de Bernières manages to secure real empathy for the dog, without declining into mawkishness--perhaps because we all know a Red Dog, canine or otherwise. As one character points out: "Everyone's got a Red Dog story. Someone ought to write them down." Louis de Bernières thankfully has. --Alan Stewart