Bryony is an imaginative and curious young girl, battling to adjust to the presence of her cousin Gigi who is mourning the murder of her mother. Liam and Adele – struggling to pick up the pieces of their quickly deteriorating family as secrets from years ago start to surface. Lesedi, the Sangoma living next door, has seen the black dog, bringing with it a danger that will challenge the hearts and minds of everyone. Sally, tied to the story unravelling before her with no easy way of getting through to the ones she once called family must find strength in limbo, somehow.
Black Dog Summer is one of those books that throws numerous punches to the gut. Miranda starts off the tale with an intense and gripping glimpse at Sally’s murder – a scene which may leave some feeling particularly chilled and uncomfortable. It is a sad and all too real truth of South Africa, one that may be a little too real for some, read with an awareness that there are some very challenging scenes regarding Sally’s murder.
I cannot help but be reminded of The Lovely Bones because of how Sally is forced to watch the ones she loves as they come to terms with her death, and the events which unfold in the book. Miranda has managed to turn the afterlife into this incredibly complex and yet intriguing concept; where the stories of Africa call out to Sally, leaving her unable to leave the limbo she finds herself in until things are tied up and resolved. Those who pass on are tied to the earth by threads connecting them to the ones they love, each with their own colours and stories. It’s such a beautiful concept that I found to be really reassuring in a way.
The impact of Sally’s passing on Gigi was really well plotted. She felt like a character that was herself stuck in a sense of limbo – battling to process her mother’s murder and yet expected to start exiting out of her withdrawn grieving by Adele and Liam. The grieving process, and PTSD, can impact and individual in so many different ways and so, towards the end of the book when the exact impact Sally’s death on Gigi becomes known, I was quite surprised by the ‘manifestation’ that occurs.
One of my favourite characters has to be Lesedi. We are given a glimpse of her journey to pursue the calling for her to become a sangoma. I loved how her character is does not force herself into the lives of her neighbours and how she relies more on the afterlife and spiritual guidance for understanding and direction. I will admit that I do not feel Bryony was as obsessed with Lesedi and her practices as the blurb suggested. Instead she experiences an intense fear that leads to her distancing herself. Which later ends in an odd awareness that Bryony demonstrates towards the emotional and spiritual scars that have marked Gigi.
Black Dog Summer has ignited a spark of curiosity in me. African folk lore, spirituality and the notion of magic are subjects which have captured people’s imagination, and superstitions, for many years so I really enjoyed seeing it in a work of fiction, knowing that it is also based on a very real belief system.
Review Rating: 3 Stars Publisher: Washington Square Press; Reprint edition Published Date: February 16, 2016 Genre: Contemporary African Culture