The Isle of Dogs by Daniel Davies (Serpent’s Tail) caught my eye when writer Clare Dudman mentioned it on her blog (more later on that one). I share a surname with the author and he’s half Welsh; and I do like to support Welsh authors. The book, a work of fiction, explores today’s surveillance society and the paradoxical rise of the activity of dogging. Both sets of facts had me curious. In 2006, I spent a week in Aldeburgh where there is a long rough track shoreside and to the south, near the Martello tower. On certain evenings this area would fill up with cars and I took a walk down there more than once. Everyone was tucking into the renowned local fish and chips, with the windows steaming up inside the vehicles. But I wondered if that was the endgame or a prelude to something else. Did another activity take over after dark? I did not stick around to find out.
If anything is a wonderful exploration of the extremes of contemporary society in the UK today, it can be found in The Isle of Dogs. We have more CCTV monitoring of our population than anywhere else in the world. At the same time, and for a country that loves to use its main trait of “laugh it off” humour to conquer the perceived ongoing and inbuilt embarrassment of sex, the practice of “dogging” has been on the increase. Let’s let Davies shed more light with his The Isle of Dogs:
Jeremy Shepherd, our protagonist has given up a high profile media lifestyle to live an “alternative lifestyle.” At 39, he is back home and living with his parents again, cycling to work where he is a civil servant. This is later explained in the novel, along with a consideration of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, for “Jem” to his parents and “The Shep” to his network may have downshifted his life, but he is also concentrating on his baser needs; hence the dogging he so loves to engage in.
From the outset, there is great wit in telling “The Shep’s” story, but there is also an undercurrent that is very dark. There is a feeling that it will all end in tears. Such risky exposure, even if perpetrated via the net and with instant moves to new locations when found out, carries risk. And, oh yes, that risk does materialise.
Davies did extensive research for this novel and the press release is probably the most extensive I’ve seen in giving an outline of it. Davies sees dogging as something “quintessentially English”; a product of 21st century boredom; a craving for community; a reaction to our surveillance society and a reflection of our unsustainable lifestyles.
From that research he has crafted a tense and engaging story in The Isle of Dogs. Jem’s parents provide the evidence of normal, routine suburban living where Jem and his friends pursue excitement in the alternative lifestyle. So often, when reading, you wish they could find happiness in normality too. There is an absolutely fantastic twist at the end of this story; a really big bolt from the blue. I didn’t see it coming and it made for double icing on a very rich cake.
After reviewing the novel, Clare Dudman then went on to interviewing the author as her alter ego Dr Grump (Lecturer in Etymology and Sexual Dynamics at the University of Uurm). Do take a look for more information on the author and his novel.