Human nature is often complex and intricate, and human fallibilities are often glaringly obvious, yet sometimes deep and hidden away. These facts are realistically illustrated for us in British author Ericka Waller’s debut novel, “Dog Days”.
Set in the hauntingly picturesque coastal town of Brighton in England, the novel focuses on the lives of three sorrowful, yet purpose driven individuals; George, Lizzie and Dan.
George is elderly, and not coping at all with life after his wife of 50 plus years, Ellen, has died, and left him alone with a miniature dachshund puppy – whose very existence George resents – named Poppy. During their marriage, Ellen has waited tirelessly on George, and now George can barely take care of himself. Any attempts by local folk to help George are met with scathing and vehemently abusive language from him, and his anger at the world seems only to abate when he listens to his beloved cricket on the radio.
Lizzie is a young mother living in a hidden women’s shelter – along with her son Lenny – for victims of domestic abuse. Lizzie finds solace in taking walks on the Beacon (a wild and windy headland) with the shelter’s resident dog, Maud (a sweet terrier). Lizzie has the ugly scars on her body to prove to others she has been on the receiving end of some reprehensible behaviour. But what terrible and repugnant secret is Lizzie hiding from the world, and why is she so reluctant to make a statement to the police regarding her plight?
Then there is Dan, a conscientious therapist with OCD, who is in urgent need of some therapy sessions himself. He is on the receiving end, however, of much unconditional love from his loyal yellow Labrador, Fitz. Dan’s carefully ordered existence becomes upended when he begins treating a new patient; the mysterious and deflective Atticus. Outside of work, Dan can’t stop thinking about Atticus, and perhaps has developed a crush on him.
On the outside, this novel appears to be an observation on the overt, simple nature of human grief and suffering. But appearances are deceptive, and George, Lizzie and Dan illustrate for us that while grief and suffering may be universal, the way that humans deal with these dark, unwelcome visitors in their lives are highly individual, contextual and dependent on life experience.
Dark undertones permeate this seemingly straightforward novel, that is an eagle-eyed study of human behaviour and relationships, and the wise, loyal dogs who assist their owners to safely navigate the often muddy quagmires, yet also resplendent, sunny fields, that we all walk in this life.