Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Drover's Dogs, by Susan Price

I only got this yesterday, but I've finished it already - even though I'm in the middle of reading a novel for fun, a non-fiction book for research, and I had to put on a sudden unexpected spurt to read book group book for tonight, when I thought it was for next week. I have to admit I skimmed this last - it didn't grip.

But The Drover's Dogs did, very much so.

It's told in a very distinctive voice - the voice of an old man remembering his life as a ten year old child, in Scotland at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The book begins with Sandy being virtually sold by his poverty-stricken mother to a neighbouring farmer. It's tough reading at this stage, as the narrator relates his bewilderment and disbelief as he realises what is happening to him. Things only get worse as he finds that his new 'owner' is a cruel bully, as is his son; Sandy is not even allowed to eat what little food he is given with the family, and he has to sleep out in a shed with only sacks and rank straw for bedding.

Finally he runs away. Fortunately for him, he falls in with two dogs - the drover's dogs - who are travelling back to their home on Mull, having been sent back by their owner after helping him take cattle down to the lowlands to sell. The dogs look after Sandy, and their kindliness foreshadows that of their owner...

It's a simple enough story, but the way it is told is enthralling. Susan Price makes you see, hear, smell and taste life in this particular time and place - and she has created such an engaging character in Sandy that your heart sinks when when he's sad, and you smile when he's happy - and you really can't leave him till you know that he's going to be safe and sound. Some of it is quite hard to take - bullying, cruelty, extreme poverty: all these are harshly present.

A word about the layout, which I find very satisfying. It's quite a large book - 23cm x 15cm - which I like. And when you open it, it's very easy on the eye, with generous amounts of space and a nice little drawing at the head of each chapter - hope you can see this in the picture, above.


  1. Have just enjoyed the e-book version home here. Simple, almost understated telling adds to the poignant moments. I found the warm "voice" of the narrator made Sandy's story compelling - that and having been on the Isle of Mull too.

  2. Read it recently too - as you say very vividly written and you feel you have walked every step of the way with Sandy!