September’s review: Barking Dogs by Rebekah Clarkson, reviewed by Kate Lomas Glendenning

Barking Dogs is Rebekah Clarkson’s debut novel, which reveals a promising start to Clarkson’s career as a writer. Barking Dogs is a series of connected short stories, told from various perspectives of residents within a new housing estate in the South Australian town of Mount Barker. Clarkson’s plot is held to great promise with a compelling blurb which details the mundane arguments neighbours have, that family members have and the transition families and individuals are forced to go through in life, then ends with a gripping line: “Within the shadows is an unspeakable crime.”
Unfortunately, the execution of the promising plot was let down due to unexplored storylines. This is annoying because the blurb seemed to promise an entirely different novel from the one I read. I found it enjoyable, but it is in no way a crime novel. The murder mystery is left unresolved, but touched upon throughout when characters mention the murder of a local girl. Whilst the intrigue of the murder is what initially caught my attention, the beginning of the novel hooked me through its descriptions. The first chapter definitely captured my attention because of the first page, which details the smell of the rotten body and food within a neglected house. “At first we gulped it, as if death was cold beer, but then we gagged and Troy Campbell retched.” Clarkson’s use of imagery is vivid and invokes the use of senses creatively in this line.
Clarkson’s use of vivid imagery is scattered throughout the novel; however, Clarkson’s insistence on recording minute details becomes grating. In particular, the continuous specific references to brands and places. The fact that the pen might be a BIC one is unnecessary, and in no way pushed or contributed to the plot. The continuous references to brands made the book feel as though it is trying to be perceived as Australian, which is completely unnecessary due to the novel being solely based within Mount Barker. I found the references interrupted the plot and pulled me from the realm of imagination I settle into when I read.
Even though Clarkson’s use of details is exasperating her character’s development and description are excellent. Each character is flawed and human. Human is the only way I could describe it – the characters are real. They snap at each other and can be cruel and vicious, but also loving and caring, exactly how family and friends can be to each other. It was refreshing to not have to read pages of description of how gorgeous a man or woman was, but instead for the character to acknowledge they are not beautiful, but they are so much more than their looks or what they are to others. Each character as different, some inspire sympathy and others inspire the desire to drop-kick them; however, they all come across as fully-formed, which is no easy task given the numerous characters’ Clarkson used. I enjoyed the diversity of age and gender with the main characters of each chapter, whilst the majority of main characters were middle aged it worked with the kind of people you expect to see within a new development: new families, singles and elderly couples.
A chapter separates each story, so if you want to take your time there is no rush; however, characters do reappear in different chapters. I found the timeline confusing at times, especially towards the end when a character was diagnosed with cancer; then is dead a couple of chapters later. The timeline seems to jump with other stories as well, which can be slightly confusing. Whilst Barking Dogs was not the crime drama I hoped for, it was an open, and unflinching peek into the suburban life of the citizens of Mount Barker.

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