This review was written for and originally published by Bookmunch.
Louis de Bernieres’ short novel, Red Dog, was loosely based on the true story of a Kelpie cattle dog that travelled around Western Australia’s Pilbara region in the 1970s. The book was adapted for film and proved popular in the legendary canine’s home country. Although little can be confirmed about Red’s origins, a prequel was commissioned and this film released in 2016. It covers the imagined early days of the Pilbara Wanderer, known during this time as Blue. Louis de Bernieres was approached by the filmmakers about novelising the story. Although initially hostile to the idea, the author changed his mind when he read the script. He writes of Blue Dog:
“Novelists are routinely appalled and dismayed by what scriptwriters and film directors do to their stories. I have therefore been completely shameless about diverging from the script, excellent though it is, because revenge is sweet.”
The story opens with an eleven year old boy, Mick, being flown to the bushland area of Pilbara where he is to live with his paternal grandfather following the death of his father. Mick’s mother has suffered a breakdown and is being cared for back in Sydney where the boy was raised. Mick is eager to explore his new surroundings after his Granpa installs him in his father’s old room. The farm is staffed by a mix of natives and incomers, all men.
The practicalities of living in such a remote region result in Mick being granted freedom to roam and lessons in fixing anything that is damaged or that breaks. Whilst he enjoys adult supervision his activities involve helping out and learning independence. He rebuilds a motorbike which he is then permitted to ride. He learns to recognise and respect the wide variety of local wildlife.
In the wake of a cyclone Mick rescues a puppy from a flooded creek. He calls it Blue and it soon settles with the farm residents. Blue joins Mick on his many games and adventures. The dog is unimpressed when a woman is engaged as Mick’s tutor and keeps the boy inside for lessons.
Boy and dog mature with both discovering an interest in the opposite sex. Granpa meanwhile has worries of his own – rumours of a buyout for the farm and potential health issues.
The story is aimed at twelve year olds and this age group will likely regard the liberty Mick is granted appealing. It is somewhat Boy’s Own in aspect, although Granpa enjoys his rum and occasionally forgets himself in conversations with Mick. This adds to the humour; there is no inappropriate content. Emotions are acknowledged lightly as are the aboriginal culture and its loss at the hands of white settlers.
The denouement asks more of Mick than any of his challenges living in the bush. Blue’s reaction places the tale as the prequel it was intended to be.
As one would expect from an author of this stature, the writing is fluent and engaging. It certainly appealed to this adult reader. There are regular illustrations that add to the sense of place. I was also delighted by the little blue dogs on each top right hand page which move playfully when the book is flicked through at speed.
Any Cop?: A story of a boy more than his dog but one that charms without descending into schmaltz. It is good sometimes to read of the positives in human nature.