Back to nature
- Book: Wild Dog
- Location: Lot-et-Garonne
- Author: Serge Joncour
Serge Joncour is a novelist and screenwriter, who has published 15 novels and short story collections.
‘Wild Dog’ won the Prix Landerneau des Lecteurs and the Prix du Roman d’Écologie in 2018, and is his first novel to be published in English.
Urbanites Franck and Lise escape the madness of a Parisian summer to rent a holiday cottage in the isolated hills of the French Lot.
Lise, an actor recovering from a recent illness, relishes the opportunity to reconnect with nature. Franck, her film-producing husband, isn’t so sure: he is suspicious of the younger business partners in his production company, and feels cast adrift without a phone signal.
Their story, told in current times, alternates chapter by chapter with what happens in the village, this isolated cottage and the surrounding landscape, during the Great War. Nothing is quite what it seems in this secluded corner of France. The locals are surly and suspicious, a dog emerges from the wilderness and attaches himself to Franck, and relics of the distant past emerge to play their role in the present.
‘Wild Dog’ is an allegory for the damage done to us by technology and by the modern world, and a reminder of the healing powers of nature.
I found the book strongest when portraying the natural environment:
‘The sun was behind them now, when it had been in front of them two minutes before. When they got to the third hlll, the path disappeared under the tough plants that covered everything. Here, wilderness reigned supreme. It was a snarl of holm oaks and thorny bushes, a tangle of branches weaving themselves into a prickly, impenetrable scrubland.’
The descriptions of life in the village below Mont d’Orcières during WWI are also emotive, as the women fight to survive on the land while their menfolk are perishing at the Front:
‘In the autumn, there would also be a thousand other picking tasks to be performed, and the only livestock left were three oxen between ten farms – old limping creatures the army did not want. Women were not used to handling oxen, and they found them impossible to manage. Children helped their mothers lift the yoke over the horns of the huge beasts, saving the women hours wrestling with the harnesses and becoming exhausted before they set to work.’
German lion-tamer Wolfgang hides out on the remote mountainside, devising an ingenious way to sate the huge appetites of his eight carnivorous big cats. Young widow Joséphine Manouvrier is drawn to the raw energy surviving above the village, and 100 years later the story strands are deftly drawn together.
The location and characters in ‘Wild Dog’ are perceptively conveyed, and I wanted to know how the story ended. But I felt at times that the author was repeating his allegorical message a little too bluntly and frequently, and that perhaps the novel could have benefited from being 50 pages shorter.
Nevertheless, this is an engaging book that will transport lovers of TripFiction to rural France, as remote now as a century ago. Author Serge Joncour and translators Jane Aitken and Polly Mackintosh are to be commended for making ‘Wild Dog’ (‘Chien–Loup’) accessible to readers this side of La Manche.
I’m grateful to Gallic Books for making an Advance Reader Copy available to TripFiction for review. The English language version of Wild Dog will be published on 2nd April, 2020.