The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie

Well that book is stuffed full of quirky characters.

First is Penny, somewhere on the spectrum, finding social situations awkward but also has experienced situations where animals have talked to her, specifically a fish. This was as she floated out to sea when she rescued a ‘grunion’ who turned out to be a ‘false grunion’ but who she felt was a friend that she could talk to. Fortunately, she was rescued by a ship.

There is Burt Lampey, her grandmother’s accountant, who wears a toupee that he eventually ditches and gives to his dog to make a nest in. He is very ill but provides Penny with a campervan to stay in whilst she is visiting him and her grandmother. He sees himself as a ladies man and lives in his office. His dog is called Kweecoats although on his collar tag it says Quixote.

Her grandmother must be the most peculiar with dead bodies in the shed and other places around her house. A house so filthy that the cleaning agency who are called in to clean it whilst she is in hospital find 29 dead rats but can’t find the gun that she brandished at the meals-on-wheels people. She is Dr Pincer and has a little dementia which can show itself in furious criticising of people and then completely forgetting it happened. I wonder how many grandmothers have stabbed their granddaughters in the leg with a brooch that had rat or mouse pee on it?

The story is told from Penny’s point of view, where she has left her job, her soon to be ex-husband and answered a call to come and help her grandmother but ends up having adventures with travel to try and find her missing parents along with Arlo her grandfather (divorced from Pincer but remarried). There are meals with other people, experiments, visiting family, people becoming ill or arrested whilst Penny works out some of her childhood trauma. She does not fit in but McKenzie shows us that we are all a bit flawed – what is normal, after all?

As this is a quest story with very few wise people to help Penny on her way, it is remarkable that at the end she finds her way through the chaos to hope with family and love and healing the outcome.

I imagine that this book is named after The Dog of the South by Ray Midge. I haven’t read it but it is said to be an eventful trip to South America to retrieve his stolen Ford Torino and possibly win his wife back again. There are definite parallels between the books.

This is a funny book with Penny’s interior world guiding us through.

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