As everyone knows, I am a huge animal lover, and I am no stranger to books with animal characters at the heart of the story. I was ridiculous excited when my boyfriend bought Sun-Mi Hwang’s The Dog Who Dared to Dream for my birthday (haul here), as it was a book I had not seen or heard mentioned anywhere before. Reading the blurb, I discovered the book was originally written in Korean, and was published here for the first time in English by Chi-Young Kim. The book also mentioned that the author had previously won great acclaim with an earlier book, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, which was a number one bestseller. Not having read a huge amount of translated fiction, I was curious as to the ways any differences between the cultures might be betrayed through the use of animals.
I have to be honest right from the start. I did not enjoy this book. I dived into the pages feeling so hopeful. As you can see, the book itself is beautifully designed. The pristine whiteness of the cover gives the appearance of something quite delicate, which is suggestive of a gentle, heart-warming story. Despite this aesthetically promising start, I left the book feeling as if I had gained nothing from this experience, except a strong sense of boredom and dislike. Thankfully, this short novella is only 167 pages long, and I read it in one day, so I did not feel as if it had taken up to much of my time, otherwise I would perhaps have been tempted to put the book down.
The book follows the story of Scrappy, a dog born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, marking her as different to her litter mates from the moment of her birth. We then follow Scrappy as she grows, and witness the events of both her life, and that of her elderly owners, as she is forced to face events beyond her control.
The opening of the book did not immediately deter me; we are given a very fast, snappy opening which establishes the pace very quickly with the birth of Scrappy. But then rather than taking a short time to develop the characters, or even the plot of the story, the novella keeps jumping immediately forward with startling acceleration. The various chapters are all very short, which does make for an easy read, yet each few pages of the individual chapters can cover an incredible amount of time, making me feel that I was missing establishing and maintaining a connection with any of the characters. In many ways, it was more like a montage of some events in Scrappy’s life, as opposed to a story with an actual plot. Looking back, I could not really give you any of the different events surrounding Scrappy, and the whole book seems to have blurred into one rather mundane account of her life.
Admittedly, animal characters are probably harder to write authentically than human ones, yet even Scrappy’s owners did not improve the book. They seemed extremely 2D, with only incredibly basic writing to flesh them out, with the fast paced nature of the book only adding to the sense of something missing. In addition to this, I found their treatment of Scrappy to be far from fair, and really did not like them as individuals, which made the ending of the book seem rather strange as a conclusion to her life and treatment.
Perhaps the final item which made this book a definite dislike for me was the writing style. Admittedly, this could be a controversial area, as the book is translated, and so I do not necessarily know how much of this is true to the original words. Having said that, surely the purpose of a good translator is to carry across the words themselves, as well as the meaning and effect that the author strove to create. Taking the assumption that this is how the author wrote, I found her writing to be extremely juvenile and simplistic. In many ways, it felt more like reading a children’s book than anything else. I have no issue with novels which are considered an ‘easy’ read, or which do not contain an eclectic list of vocabulary; as long as the book is done well, I can read anything. Yet the writing here really was rather mundane, and I felt as if I told the story through the method of, ‘This happened, then this happened, followed by this, with then this happening’. It was a boring style and I really did not like it or think it worked when combined with the extremely fast rhythm of the plot. The only thing I can think of to excuse this could be that that the author was attempting to get across an animal’s point of view, but then the book is not narrated by Scrappy, and even if it were the attempt would have paled considerably next to other books I have read of similar design.
Quite simply, I felt no connection to this book. I may have a love of animals, but the whole thing just felt incredibly flat, and as if there was no purpose or point to the story. Regrettably, I must say that I will not be looking to pick up anything from this author in the future.
I would love to know if any of you have read this book, and how you felt about it, or if you have read any of her other works and have similar feelings.