Book Reviews

Book Review: The Dog of the North

By Elizabeth McKenzie

Published March 2023

332 Pages

Penny Rush’s life has never been great, but she’s definitely on her way to hitting a bottom.  How else can having to rush out of town to help her obstinate, possibly demented, grandmother out of another situation be considered a good turn of events?  Since it gave Penny an excuse to leave her dead-end job and cheating husband, it definitely had a silver lining.  But of course, nothing is ever simple and the situation with her grandmother also involved staying with her grandmother’s accountant, Burt (in his office) only to have him collapse and get rushed to the hospital, finding a corpse in her grandmother’s shed, and moving her grandfather into a retirement home while being berated by his wife.  This was all in the first few days.  Throw in an attraction to Burt’s (possibly married) brother, an unexpected trip to Australia to search for her missing parents, and a potentially life-threatening infection, and Penny’s life looks like it’s heading for a fatal collapse.  Or is this a week that will finally steer her in the direction she’s been hoping for?

This book shouldn’t have been funny, but it was.  With Penny being homeless and having to sleep in a duct-taped van (named Dog of the North) full of detritus including a donkey pinata, getting stabbed with rat-infected jewelry, having her grandmother’s mood turn on a dime, and dealing with a lifetime of trauma and more recent grief, I’d have expected Penny to at least be bitter, if not downright ready to end it all.  Instead, she was quirky, self-deprecating, and took everything in stride.  And there was a lot to take in stride.  I’m reading an editing book that said to chase your heroine up a tree then throw rocks at her.  This author chased Penny up a tree, threw rocks at her, dug a moat around the tree with piranhas, then set the tree on fire.  It was just one thing after another, each one more unexpected than the last and all of them darkly hilarious.

“The Dog of the North” interpreted by Wombo Dream

Somehow there were at least four subplots running at the same time and none of them got lost in the chaos surrounding Penny. The storylines were brilliantly juggled.  I’d picked this  up because it’s long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 and by about the half-way point, I was patting myself on the back for making a good pick and not having to wait too long to get it from the library.

Then it ended.  Abruptly.  If this were an ARC, I might have thought I’d gotten a file with an error in it.  I read the last page, swiped to the acknowledgments, and thought, “Wth?”  It was like that scene in Elf where the publisher leaves out a few pages and he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but everyone loses their mind wanting to know what happened to the pigeon and the puppy.  I have no idea if the grandmother was arrested for murder. I have no idea where Penny decided to live. I have no idea if grandpa stayed in Australia.  And dammit, I want to know!  If I’d heard a whiff of there being a sequel, my ire would downgrade to merely being miffed but I’m not sure there is.  And that just about kills me.  There should have been another 30 pages to wrap all of these storylines up.  And I’m sad there wasn’t.

So, while I adored most of this book and thought I’d be rating this one over four stars, I can’t because the ending (or lack thereof) gutted me.

Final rating: 3.25/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Until next time, thank you for visiting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s