This was not quite the winter’s tale that I was expecting, and it’s a difficult one to write about without giving too much away, but I shall try …..
Imagine, if you will, a house set deep in the country, snowbound in the depths of winter. Two men live there. Jerome is an author, a novelist and a playwright, who needs the peace of the country and a country life to be able to write. It is his house, and Peter works for him. Peter who was his batman when the world was at war, who was horribly burned, and wanted to escape the stares of the curious, and to be occupied and busy.
The two men understood each other, and they each had the home and the lifestyle that suited them.
Sylvie, their young German Shepherd dog was their pride and joy. She had the freedom to roam in the surrounding woodland, and she knew that she was welcome to sit quietly with Jerome, as he worked in his study, or to settle with Peter in the warmth of the kitchen.
It was a household in perfect harmony, and Jon Godden demonstrated that so very well, simply by noticing the details of their home, and of what they said and did. She showed such a wonderful understanding of what made a house and a home, and of everyday human psychology.
That harmony, that balance, was upset by an uninvited guest. Una was a young actress, and she had set her sights on making a place for herself in Jerome’s world. He was reluctant to welcome her but her car was stuck in a drift, and her youth, her naivety, her greed for life quickly won over Jerome.
It didn’t win over Peter and Sylvie who were pushed away; Una didn’t like dogs, and she saw Peter as servant. It wasn’t that they were right and that Una was wrong; it was that they saw things differently, that they didn’t understand each other, and that Una was too young, too insensitive.
Peter understood the situation, he was prepared to bide his time, but of course Sylvie couldn’t.
A dog can’t understand why her master no longer has time for her, why her bed has been moved from her master’s bedroom to the landing, why the interloper has all so much of the attention that used to be hers …..
Una’s lack of understanding, her jealousy, her fear, lead to a terrible tragedy. But it wasn’t all her fault, not by any means.
Jon Godden winds up the tension slowly and steadily, with perfect care and attention to detail. I knew that something was going to break, and something – maybe. I almost knew and I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
This is the second domestic psychological novel – a clumsy term I know, but I can’t think of a better one – by Jon Godden that I have read, and I have to say that she was very good at them. She understood the importance of house, how much it says about characters who called those houses home. And she understood how to tell a story to gradually reveal the full complexity of those characters. She wasn’t a comfortable writer, but she was a clever one.
And Sylvie’s story is as well told, as well understood, as the story of the thee humans. I had some minor concerns, but breeds are different, individual dogs are different, and it could well be no more than that. It is not a happy story, but it is an honest one, and the writing is always clear and none of the details are gratuitous.
but now I find myself torn between wanting to read more of Jon Godden’s work, because she was such a gifted and interesting writer, and being relieved that the library has no more of her books, because her stories are so very unsettling …..