Miles Franklin Award winner, Anna Funder turns her lens on domestic life with a novella that brims with acute observations about what it means to enter into middle age
Reading anything by Anna Funder is always a treat – whether it be fiction or non-fiction – and ‘The Girl with the Dogs’ is no exception to this.
It is the story of middle-aged Tess, who shuttles between her job, her husband of 17 years (Dan), her three children and her ailing father.
When Dan reveals he has been facebooked by an old lover, Tess is spooked.
‘They are at a hinge moment: between youth and age, between the life you thought you wanted and the one you feel might, now, suit you better. They are like hermit crabs who outgrow one shell and need to leave it before they are trapped inside, emerging for a moment, shell-less and pink, vulnerable to predators of every stripe.’
On a business trip overseas, Tess decides to surprise Mitya, the Russian with whom she fell deeply in love as a twenty-one year old, at the opening of his art exhibition in Paris.
‘What does she want from him? The thought of getting her clothes off in front of someone who hasn’t had years to acclimatise to her body makes her shudder in the upholstered seat. Though given enough wine and darkness she knows she would, she also knows that this is not about sex. She is looking for something else, some feeling she had then that has been lost.’
Having done a little internet digging, I’ve learned that this novella was commissioned by the pearl brand, Paspaley, as part of a marketing promotion for a new line of jewellery. Don’t let that scare you. There is no product placement and this is a genuinely good story – a perfect little read for your commute home.
Paspaley released it under the title ‘Something Precious’ which is far more glamorous than ‘The Girl with the Dogs’ or even my suggested title, which is ‘Lament of the Sandwich Generation.’ For this is what the story is – a beautiful encapsulation of all that concerns the typical, near-middle-aged, middle class woman.
Tess caters to her children’s every need, but worries they are becoming too entitled and too attached to their electronic devices. She sees her dad, with his once towering intellect, reduced to ‘speaking in Beyonce’ as his brain turns to mush. She sees her friends having mid-life crises all over the place. And she worries that Dan, as they enter the saggy stages of marriage, may well leave her. Mostly, she worries whether she made the right choice to leave Mitya all those years ago.
What makes this so worthwhile is Funder’s astute observations on life, and domestic life in particular. I’ll leave you with this, one of Tess’ ruminations on marriage…
‘To live with someone for a long time requires an element of fiction – the selective use of facts to craft an ongoing story. Also the suspension of disbelief: we must believe a story is real while we are in it, and the same goes, Tess thinks, for a marriage.’
For more information, or to purchase a copy, visit Penguin Australia
* I reviewed a free, digital copy, supplied on request from Net Galley.