The Gaze of Dogs author, Leon Saunders, interviewed by Sarah Macdonald on ABC Nightlife, May 2019.
The Gaze of Dogs‘ author, Leon Saunders, interviewed by Richard Bell, Northside Radio FM99.3, Sydney, March 2019
The Gaze of Dogs – Preview by David Williamson
I was looking forward to reading The Gaze of Dogs because I knew that from way back Leon Saunders was a consummate storyteller and that he knew how to make his characters real. And I wasn’t disappointed. Within a page or two I had to read on.
The story opens as Ned Sheridan helps to bury the mysterious Jack from the Anakie gemfields. At least they don’t have to drill holes in the coffin so it will sink, like they did at Joe’s funeral, Ned muses. But who is this Ailsa, who comes to him after the funeral to tell him he has a brother he never knew existed?
And what is the truth about Jack, the man they’ve just buried, who Ned is sure had a much greater connection to his early life than he would ever admit to?
Ned has felt this since he saw Jack’s photo on a newspaper wrapping and it impels him to travel to where Jack is working on the Anakie gemfields to confront him.
Ned is sure this is the man who is part of his earliest memory. The man who delivered him to the care of the St. Andrews boys’ hostel and told him he’d be well looked after. But when Ned does find Jack he says he’s not Jack Raithall, he’s Jack Wilson and he has no idea what Ned is talking about.
So all Ned is left with is his conviction that Jack is lying, and a weird and persistent fear of recurring images of burning dogs. Further back from that, all is blank.
Like all good story tellers, Leon has set us up with some intriguing question marks. He has ensured we are compelled to keep reading to find the answers.
But this book is so much more than just a page turner. Leon has taken us from Sydney into a world that’s vividly exotic but totally real. Life is different on the gemfields. Very different, and it would be tempting to say that Leon’s characters, the exuberant and slightly mad Joe, Jimmy, Sparra and Taipan and the rest, are larger than life.
Except they aren’t. They’re vivid and vividly drawn, but they fit perfectly into an ethos that allows and almost expects exotic behaviours to flourish. We feel every character is real and engaging, and that all of them are vital to the canvas of the story Leon unfolds for us.
And of course, there’s a villain, Hegarty. A very real and recognisable villain. Hegarty is neo-liberalism on the rampage. Use any method, brutal or devious, to plunder those who aren’t as ruthless and cold and avaricious as you are.
Ned and his new friends watch with helpless rage as the Hegarty octopus, bit by bit, takes over the individual leases, hard won and hand worked, and adds them to his environment-scarring lease; using huge machines to rip the ground apart in his haste to extract as many sapphires as he can, in as short a time as possible.
I won’t reveal one of the high points of the novel, how Ned and his friends engineer for Hegarty to get his come uppance, but you’ll be cheering.
Leon also introduces us to another world. The world of the Kairi people who he first encounters in tragic circumstances. They are drawn warmly but without idealisation or condescension, as is his touching romance with Jess, a young First Nation woman.
Leon is able to draw all his characters warts and all, with such compassion and understanding that he’s able to convincingly make us believe that community and caring for each other is still a thriving and vital part of the human psyche; despite all the attempts of our Conservative rulers to tell us that the ideal society is competition, red in tooth and claw.
It’s a rich picture of humanity Leon draws for us. We care about them all, except and rightly so, the awful Hegarty and even he has fleeting moments of near redemption.
When you finish this book, you haven’t just finished a story. You’ve finished a touching and truthful examination of humanity. We are beset with difficulties, tragedies, sadnesses and frustrations, but we battle on as best we can. We aren’t in Maggie Thatcher’s universe where person is pitted against person in a relentless battle for material gain. We’re still in a universe where the bonds between us still matter, where compassion and caring still exist, and where the strength of our human bonds makes life worthwhile.
My only regret on finishing this wonderful book is a sadness that Leon didn’t start writing novels twenty years or more ago.
But thankfully, I’m sure after reading this one it won’t be his last. And I’ll be there waiting for the next one.
David Williamson 14/03/2019
The Gaze of Dogs
Reviewed By K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite
Review Rating: 5 Stars *****
The Gaze of Dogs is a work of adventurous mystery fiction penned by author Leon Saunders. The central mystery lies in main character Ned Sheridan, who remembers nothing about his life before being delivered to a hostel in St Andrew’s by a mysterious man. But when Ned is suddenly haunted by strange images of burning dogs, the investigation into his past is sparked into life. The dogs lead him to a mining field almost 2000 miles away from home, where a ragtag collection of seemingly ‘unwanted’ people toil hard in the ground for their slice of life. Here, a tragi-comedy unfolds amongst these colourful characters as Ned attempts to rediscover who he is.
I was absolutely fascinated by this little piece of Australian culture which I had no idea existed. The different types of people who come together at the Anakie sapphire mines are well drawn and differentiated, and you can tell that the author takes great care to explain them and bring them to life. The beauty of Australia and the elements themselves also make a huge contribution to the story, and author Leon Saunders has a real talent for describing this vast and wonderful landscape. The plot regarding Ned’s identity was interesting, but it was more important, at least for me as a reader, to see him integrating with his current world than learning about what came before. There’s also a great deal of pathos in the humour, which suited the rough and ready character types. Overall, The Gaze of Dogs is a fun and fascinating read.by