Between a wolf and a dog

Australian author Georgia Blain is one of the most effective writers of the twenty first century.

Nowhere is this clearer than in her most recent novel Between a Wolf and a Dog, which perfectly captures the intricacies of sorrow, familial relationships, and the transformative power of art. Released in April, this is Blain’s seventh novel for adults and, like her other works, it speaks to an audience on a deeply personal level—as though we are observing characters whom we already know and love, despite their flaws. It is a portrait of mother and daughter, of forgiveness and mortality, and of life.

Blain began writing Between a Wolf and a Dog several years ago, however its publication was brought to a standstill as she helped her mother cope with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Not long after was Blain’s own seizure, immediate surgery, and an incurable prognosis of cancer. With a brain tumour situated on her language centre, her speech was affected and working quickly was a necessity if she wanted to complete her novel.

Remarkably profound, Between a Wolf and a Dog takes place mostly over one rainy day in Sydney with the backstory told through flashbacks. The story centres on Ester, a recently divorced family therapist and hobbyist painter, and her family. There’s her ex-husband, Lawrence, a former musician and pollster whose past is catching up to him, and her sister, April, a singer struggling to resolve her directionless life. Estranged from both, Ester is looking for new love. Finally, there is Ester and April’s mother, Hilary, a film-maker in her seventies about to make a decision which will inevitably upend her daughters’ lives. It is Hilary that brings this novel to life.

There is a tragic irony regarding Blain’s condition and the contents of Between a Wolf and a Dog. Early in the book, it is revealed to the reader that Hilary is battling cancer that has spread to her brain. She has just completed her final film, Keepsake, which includes footage of her deceased husband, Maurie, and focuses on remembering the ephemeral moments, “layering images on top of each other in order to untangle larger ideas about life.” In describing Hilary’s film, Blain foreshadows the rest of the novel.

“Yes, it is about death, but it is also about living—about what we cling to and what we relinquish—about how we remember.”

The novel takes its title from the French expression L’heure entre chien et loup, “the hour between wolf and dog”, which refers to those liminal moments between day and night when the sky darkens and it is difficult to see clearly. Then, it is most difficult to distinguish a wolf from a dog, a friend from an enemy, and good from bad. This theme lies at the heart of Blain’s writing as Hilary considers whether to take her own life before the disease does. It is in these bittersweet moments—of holding onto what’s left and making the most of life before it is unbearable—that Blain’s writing shines.

“She is seventy years old and she has been loosening herself, trying to unpick the grip of life from her limbs, aware of how quickly time has been pushing her forward, shoving her now, relentless and sure, into this tiny space—the last moments—where she needs more strength than she has ever needed before.”

Between a Wolf and a Dog is melancholy in parts, joyous in others. With a slowly unfurling narrative, Blain’s lucent prose brings forth a story that is evocative and commanding. It is a triumphant meditation on mortality through the lens of a pulled-apart family. This is a novel that is worth every bit of attention it receives.

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