Derek Jackson, 12 years old, promises his bedridden mother to find his father, Colin, who has absconded from the family home. Mam, his gran and Aunt Mavis all believe that Colin is mentally ill and should be put in a home for his own protection.
Colin had promised Derek to take him on a big adventure to the South Pole but he knew that his father had no intention or the courage to embark on such a journey despite having built a boat with a steel hull to crack the ice. Derek knows the truth of what his father is doing but this is just one more secret he has to keep. He begins to buckle under the increasing responsibility to keep the family secrets and the web of untruths he is expected to tell. He confronts his father living in a back street with Louise Draper and is side-tracked when he sees the object of his dreams – a colour telly as big as the flicks! He is quickly disarmed by his father with two cans of Double Diamond.
Derek returns home, sure that his discovery will kill his mam, and wonders if he should tell just one more lie.
A down-to-earth story of a young boy weighed down with lies to cover family secrets; of a feckless father and a mother unable to confront the truth and the shame that in 1972, ordinary people struggling to make a better life, simply can’t have ‘the man of the house sneaking away like a thief in the night’.
I was lucky enough to win Dead Dog Floating by Simon Kettlewell in a competition run by http://www.oapschat.co.uk/
After I’d read the book I gave it to my husband to read. Like me he laughed out loud over certain sections of the first few chapters. Like me he became absorbed into the tragic tale of twelve years old, Derek Jackson and his dysfunctional family. But this is by no means one of those ‘misery memoirs’; rather an all too familiar story of a marriage breaking up and the results that ripple from the situation. The difference here is the way it is told.
As the young protagonist, Derek relates what is happening in the first person point of view. His take on life is quirky and funny. But there is also poignancy, a sadness that becomes obvious to the reader through his words, even though it seems Derek accepts and treats the actions of those around him as normal.
The characters are well drawn and rounded. The dialogue is believable, filled with colloquial phrases and slang and places the book in the era of the nineteen seventies in a Northern England setting.
It is a character driven book rather than plot driven and these suits the anecdotal way Dead Dog Floating is written.
And the poem and illustration towards the ending of the tale, which give the book the title, is stark and brings Derek’s life into dreadful perspective
If I had any problem with the novel it would be the repetition of some phrases, some similar scenes. It slightly irritated me. But I also understood that this is the way the author is portraying this rather obsessive and preoccupied character’s look on life. So I would recommend this novel. Just be prepared for the sadness that lies beneath the humour and enjoy those laugh-out-loud moments.
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