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The Dogs of Littlefield Hardcover – 5 Dec 2013

3.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fig Tree (5 Dec. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 024114566X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241145661
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.8 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 679,386 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Berne takes the domestic and turns it into the majestic (Sunday Telegraph)

A very well-written novel: clean, delicate, both devastating and funny in its well-chosen detail . . . it's insightful, too, with a clearly original mind behind it. Highly recommended (Daily Mail)

As astute in her observations of contemporary culture as she is in capturing the minutiae of longing, disappointment and loss (Sunday Times)

This funny novels explores the flaws of a perfect neighbourhood with a bizarre killer on the loose (Psychologies)

A compelling novel that examines life, love and loss with a cynical but insightful world view. Original and brilliant (Sunday Mirror)

A beautifully balanced and accomplished portrayal of the glue that binds families together, despite themselves, as well as the forces that tear them asunder. Superb (Mail on Sunday on The Ghost at the Table)

This ambitious account of a sudden coming of age reminded me strongly of To Kill A Mockingbird - and is very bit as moving and satisfying (Daily Telegraph on A Crime in the Neighbourhood)

It is impossible not to be completely swept along . . . Berne's vision is gently humorous, ironic, quirky . . . and she writes with such piercing sensitivity . . . a compelling debut novel (The Times on A Crime in the Neighbourhood)

About the Author

Suzanne Berne's first novel, A Crime in the Neighbourhood, won the 1999 Orange Prize. She is also the author of A Perfect Arrangement, The Ghost at the Table and Missing Lucile. Suzanne Berne lives with her husband and two daughters near Boston.

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel is set in Littlefield, listed as the sixth best place to live in America. This is very much middle class, affluent suburbia – a place populated by well educated professionals, but, nevertheless, not without problems. Indeed, when Dr Clarice Watkins arrives, it is with the intention of studying the people of Littlefield, because of their perceived excellent quality of life. A socio-cultural anthropologist, Clarice has abandoned the desolate, the poverty stricken and the traumatised, and decided to turn her professional eye to those who really should not only be coping with what life throws at them, but experiencing contentment.

Much of this book revolves around a couple; Margaret and Bill Downing and their only daughter, Julia. When we first meet Margaret she comes across a poisoned dog in the park, belonging to author George Wechsler. George has recently separated from his wife, while Margaret and Bill are having marital problems. Not only do many therapists live in Littlefield, but many of the town’s inhabitants turn to them for advice. However, it does not seem to be helping the Downing’s too much – Bill is depressed, Julia is bullied and lacks confidence, while Margaret feels as though she is teetering on the edge of a cliff.

Littlefield is experiencing another issue, which Clarice did not anticipate. Dog owners had proposed that a local park become a ‘leash free’ zone and it’s use is hotly contested by different factions. At first there are anti-dog signs and then dogs begin to be poisoned. Fear and suspicion erupts in the community and Clarice is there, documenting how people react to events. We follow the inhabitants of Littlefield over time – through their affairs, marital difficulties, problems with their children, their neighbours and themselves. As always, people find problems in any situation, whether they are successful or not and this is an interesting dissection of a community, with all its faults and triumphs.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an unusual book. At first, the reader assumes it to be an ordinary story about middle-class life in an orderly, well-to-do town in Massachusetts. But at its heart, there are deeper, more disturbing undercurrents. A disproportionate number of the residents are psychologists, for one thing. Then there is the rancorous division in the town over whether dogs should be allowed off their leads in the park, a controversy that has come to a head after a spate of mysterious dog-poisonings in the area.

Suzanne Berne uses this unsettling phenomenon to examine the lives of the dog-owners, particularly the sad haunted Margaret, her acutely depressed husband Bill and their daughter Julia, morose beyond the usual range of teenagerhood. Rather interestingly, the author introduces a 'chorus' into the proceedings in the shape of Dr Clarice Watkins, an eccentrically-dressed professor of socio-cultural anthropology, who has come to the town - ironically enough - to research into 'good quality of life'. As things pan out, the place is not quite what she expected.

There's some excellent descriptive writing here: "[Bill] felt suspended within that greenish light, surrounded by a sweet lucid membrane, like being inside a grape." Also sufficient wry humour to leaven some of the more downbeat elements of this book. But as Ms Berne explores the melancholy of her characters and seems on the verge of revealing the underlying causes or saying something very profound about life's disappointments, she draws back and leaves many issues unresolved. Having invested in these people during the course of the book, I felt I was left hanging. And, like Littlefield, that's not a comfortable place to be.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book seems to have been written by somebody who's been on a writing course, rather than by somebody with natural writing ability. On page 6 a woman is chasing after her dog which, '...galloped toward where the pine trees cast jagged shadows onto the bright grass.' Was the dog aware of the shadows? did its owner gaze about looking at the shadows whilst she chased after her dog? The author then tells us that the creek 'smelled like water in a vase of dead chrysanthemums' - did the smell have some effect on the woman? if so, the effect isn't mentioned. I find this style of writing really irritating and I'm incredulous that the author has previously won the Orange Prize. Inside the front cover, the book is described as 'darkly comic' - 'Mailman' by J. Robert Lennon is darkly comic - The Dogs of Littlefield' isn't. The book is also, apparently, '... a wry poignant reminder... that yearning for something 'more' is the one characteristic shared by us all.' - if anybody could write about 'yearning for something more', it was Richard Yates (e.g. Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade) - Suzanne Berne can't.
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Format: Paperback
This is a quietly curious book, seemingly tales of the everyday; but I feel like there's a lot to digest in here, and I could think coming back to this book again for repeated readings would bring new things to the table. There is something melancholic and real-life about it; well off American suburban life where there shouldn't be anything to worry about and yet life seems to be full of worries and disillushionments. It remained me a bit of things like Tom Perotta's Little Children, and American Beauty... and actually of The Help - not for the theme or the period, but for the fact that it's a depiction of a community and the problems within it - part of that community but also part of something bigger.

There isn't one particular main character, rather the book follows a selection of residents of Littlefield, a well off "village"/Suburb that has a scary number of psychoanalysts practicing - so I guess everything is a problem there! There is so local disagreement over whether dogs should be allowed off the leash at the park, or whether they should even get their own free run field... and then there are angry notices pinned up asking people to deal with their dogs; and then dogs start being poisoned... I suppose the dogs are an extension of this idealised idea of what your life is supposed to be like and what you're supposed to aspire to - your own home, car, partner, dog, 2.5 kids. Doesn't always work out that way, and a few families in the tale break apart. But then people are always looking for something more, and in such comfortable times, the dissatisfaction comes out as worrying over little things, or getting bored with one's wife because she's no longer new, and having affairs. Mixed in with all of this, the town gets a new residence for a year - Dr Clarice Watkins.
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