Flanagan. Rachmaninoff. The Dog.

22 Nov

Richard Flanagan may well be the only writer in the history of the prestigious prize to win the Man Booker, and be nominated for the worst sex scene in fiction in the same book by the London Literary Review, in the same week. The scene is in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and involves “circumnavigating” lovers being interrupted in their coitus by a dog with a dead fairy penguin in its mouth. I have to agree, it isn’t one of the book’s best bits.

Flanagan is interested in desire, the myriad ways in which it might manifest, the unforeseen consequences when it is lost, repressed or denied, and when it is fulfilled. I first felt the impact of the author’s reflections on this topic when I read his 2008 novel Wanting in which he dissects the complex desires of Lady Jane Franklin and her explorer husband Sir John, as well as those of Charles Dickens for his mistress, Ellen Ternan. I thought the link between Dickens and the Franklins a tenuous one on which to hang the novel, but Flanagan has such insight into the human condition I can forgive him almost anything.

In The Narrow Road, protagonist Dorrigo Evans enters into what is to become a long, unsatisfactory but absolutely binding marriage that creates in him “the most complete and unassailable loneliness, so loud a solitude that he sought to crack its ringing silence again and again with yet another woman.” The presence of the absent woman he deeply loved and lost has shaped his life and his marriage: “As a meteorite strike long ago explains the large lake now, so Amy’s absence shaped everything, even when – and sometimes particularly when – he wasn’t thinking of her.”  Yes.

It takes determination to stay with the descriptions of life in the Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma railway, and yet it would be cowardly to turn away from knowledge of what humans perpetrate on one another, what can be survived, and how desperate the desire for survival can become in conditions where one would imagine death to be a better option. Oh, he is a fine, fine writer is Flanagan.

Narrow Road to the Deep North


It’s been about ten years since I last listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. I came across the CD this morning, put it in the player and lay down on the floor to listen. It’s a big, dramatic concerto with surging melodies, rhapsodic in nature, and has at times been dismissed by critics because of its “gushing” romanticism and alleged lack of subtlety. It’s been used in a remarkable variety of films, including David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, and Japanese anime. I don’t know how it became so familiar to me, but when I listened again after so long, I knew it as well as if I’d been listening to it every day. It is, I think, quite beautiful. There was a tosser in the seventies who used one of the themes for his popular song, All By Myself, for which he should have been hung.




And finally, today has been a very sad day. Our vet Terry, Mrs Chook and I decided it’s time to say goodbye to our old Big Dog. He’s fourteen, almost blind, full of arthritis, deaf as a post and Terry says his lungs are fucked. I did tell him to stop smoking but would he listen? We have him till Wednesday, and after that he’ll be under the mango tree in the back yard. He’s a ripper dog, Terry always says. I don’t quite know how we’ll get used to being without him.

The smiling dog.

13 Responses to “Flanagan. Rachmaninoff. The Dog.”

  1. Gruffbutt November 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    And good afternoon to you, Jennifer! Hot off the press, it would seem. Must type quickly to be first off the rank…then plough through all those unread books in my room, and add Richard to the list so I can see what you’re talking about.

    Yes, Eric Carmen is your tosser, but what a delight it was to see his plagiarism given the treatment it deserves in the Kidman film ‘To Die For’, when she used it so inappropriately at her murdered husband’s funeral. I love that scene.

    I’m pretty sentimental myself and have a love of Tchaikovsky to prove it, but I have to agree with the critics that ol’ Rach can be a bit over the top sometimes. I think he certainly had an influence on many Hollywood composers.

    That’s a great photo of Terry. I’m missing him already. ‘Person’s best friend’ sounds a bit weird but why should men have all the fun? Give him a hug for me.


    • Jennifer Wilson November 22, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      No, no, Terry is the vet! Also has arthritis and fucked lungs but won’t be under the mango tree come Wednesday.

      I’d forgotten that Kidman movie, yes, use of that song at the funeral was brilliant.

      I just realised you thought the dog was Terry because of a comma in the wrong place. Mwahahahahahaha, punctuation is everything.


      • Gruffbutt November 23, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

        Phew! I’m a victim of the misplaced comma. I thought for a moment that I was having one of my increasingly frequent senior moments.

        I’ll leave it up to you if you want to hug your vet. ^^


        • Gruffbutt November 23, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

          Nah, senior moment, not reading it properly – have you rewritten it or am I guilty of bad speed reading?

          Maybe I saw ‘our pet Terry’ instead of vet and went with it. I can start my own mythology from such careless reading. Join my cult of Terry Dog now.


  2. simon harris November 22, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    And the interloper in question Eric CARMEN ,, well plundered by him but forever by the advertising industry as due to copyright laws, means they can add visual pornography to timeless music (which stunts it immediately), simply because the composer has been rotting for 100 years,
    let the vamparic nature of consumerism slowly suck us dry…….. so we can stare out into a void terrain, bleached of meaning and beauty……..
    , I cant wait to die, so too many a composer of infinite beauty…….. please let me go, I wish I never did the crime ……… sir……. Let me go, let it be a moment of fleeting beauty, I never wanted to be enslaved forever as a immortal trash can signature tune

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 23, 2014 at 8:21 am #

      I was aghast when the ABC started using that gorgeous Hunters & Collectors song about throwing my arms around you as a filler. They seem to have stopped, perhaps people complained.


  3. doug quixote November 23, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Trust you to review this book and refer only to the love interest sideshow!

    I did a review for Bob Ellis’ blog, at


    there is also a review by Rosemarie Gray, nearby.

    But men are from Mars, they say . . .


    • Jennifer Wilson November 23, 2014 at 8:19 am #

      Good review you wrote, I agree with you on all counts, I think. It’s a masterful modern novel, tackling all the big themes with assurance.

      I do think though that he teeters on the edge of sentimentality at times, but never quite falls into it.


      • doug quixote November 23, 2014 at 11:26 am #

        Yes, I suppose that is true. Unless an author actually experienced all of the deprivations and cruelties himself, it is hard not to fall into sentimentality.

        It is why an author writes best when he or she writes from the heart of personal experiences.


  4. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) November 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    The passing of The Dog.


    “And the Roman asked, “Was this well done of your lady?” …”

    It was.

    A friend of mine had a dog (he had always had a dog), and his dog had grown old and arthritic and a bit deaf. Nevertheless his dog struggled around after his relatively aged and somewhat arthritic human, supervising all the farm jobs and making sure everyone knew when a piece of farm equipment was about to be started up.

    Then one day, while helping out a neighbour with a clean-up job, his dog either failed to hear the tractor start to reverse, or was unable to move sufficiently quickly to get out of its way when it did. The dog got run over by the rear wheel of the tractor.

    There was nothing that could be done, but it took several hours for this to be determined. This was quite traumatic for all concerned, with the dog having to endure the pain until the vet was able to put him down.

    Losing a ripper dog is like losing a family member, but when their time is near and the signs of their enjoyment of life are fading, you can at least forestall a traumatic and uncontrollable ending for them. It can happen so easily otherwise if left to chance.

    Vale The (Ripper) Dog.


    • Jennifer Wilson November 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

      Thank you Forrest. We are so sad. Even Terry the Vet wept. He was a much loved dog in our village.


    • Gruffbutt November 27, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

      Hear hear.

      Liked by 1 person

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