Barking Dogs by Rebekah Clarkson: Book Review

Barking Dogs by Rebekah Clarkson Book Review

What is this about?: This is a collection of short stories, in a way, about a small town in Australia. It’s about secrets, the power of family and the problems of family as well. It’s about all the things that could be going on in people’s houses, behind closed doors. And really, how well do you know your neighbours?

What else is this about?: Life, love, death and family, even what it means to be a mother. The stories all have different themes, more than the ones I’ve described here, within a family or a couple.

Stars: 3.5/5

Blurb: 

Everybody thinks they know this story. But do they? If you took a bird’s-eye view of any sprawling Australian regional town, you’d see ordinary Australians living on their ordinary suburban blocks. Get closer. Peer through a window.

In the town of Mount Barker, you might see Nathan Hearle obsessively recording the bark of a neighbourhood dog, or the Wheeler family sitting down for a meal and trying to come to terms with a shocking discovery. You might hear tales of fathers and their wayward sons, of widows who can’t forgive themselves, of children longed for and lost, of thwarted lust and of pure love. Within the shadows is an unspeakable crime.

Rebekah Clarkson has created a compelling, slow-burning portrait of a town in the midst of major change as it makes the painful transformation from rural idyll to aspirational suburbia. What looked like redemption is now profound loss. What seemed spiteful can now be forgiven. A novel in stories, Barking Dogs is an assured debut from one of Australia’s most respected storytellers.

Do you know your neighbours?

Maybe you do, maybe you do know your neighbours well and your kids and theirs are best friends, and you all live happily ever after together on your street. But, you’d be the lucky ones, the ones with the neighbours who don’t complain incessantly about your dog — even when they’re not barking, or gleefully sent wild turkeys into your yard, which causes the dogs to bark and then they complain about it.

You’re definitely the lucky ones. But every family has their secrets and that’s what Barking Dogs is about.

Secrets, lies and love and death

Rebekah Clarkson’s Mount Barker is changing, but so are the families there. This is a quiet look at family life, where parents are struggling to connect with their kids, and realising how much they miss them. There are couples who are trying to reconnect with one another, and for others it’s too late.

Clarkson’s writing is restrained, with different characters having different POVs, but such variety doesn’t detract from the power of her prose. These are problems readers are going to relate to, recognise even and how these characters react… readers are going to understand I think.

Secrets and lies don’t have to be the big things that bust open towns. They’re the smaller things that change families and couples and their kids.

Writing

I was impressed with Clarkson’s writing — she’s an accomplished writer and her writing is quiet, emotional in it’s way and had me going back and re-reading passages because she manages to make you feel with the simplest of words.

I’ve waxed lyrical about the delicious possibilities of small-town secrets. But what this has taught me, is there’s power in the (smaller) secrets that loom large in small-town families. Barking Dogs is out now.

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