Hello, people of the internet!
I bought this book about a year ago because it was set in a country that I haven’t read a lot about: South Africa. Since I’m always after something different, I thought this book was right up my street!
So, I have finally read it and this is what I think of it!
Side note: I will be talking about the ending a bit, so I’ll put a spoiler warning here.
Title: Call It Dog
Author: Marli Roode
Publication date: 3rd April 2014
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Jo returns to South Africa after ten years in the UK to cover the riots sweeping the Jo’burg township of Alex. Nico, her estranged Afrikaner father, makes contact: he needs her help in proving his innocence in the murder of a black man abducted by the security forces decades earlier. As they set off on a road trip through the now-unfamiliar landscape, Jo begins to wonder if she is Nico’s accomplice, or his captive. Against the backdrop of a country struggling to absorb its bloody history, Call It Dog asks whether justice and truth are more important than the bonds of loyalty and love, and explores what it is like to feel you no longer in the land of your birth – or to your own family.
The biggest praise I have to give this book is how it informs readers of post-Apartheid South Africa without it feeling like you’re being force-fed information. It is something I know very little about and when I wasn’t reading this book, I took time to research it and learn more because the book gave me enough information that I was curious to know more about (me? Curious? No way…). It is good to know that anyone, even those who don’t know a lot about post-Apartheid South Africa, can read Call It Dog and follow it well.
When it comes to creating atmosphere, Marli Roode does this perfectly. There is a strong sense of tension and unease not only when it comes to the estranged father-daughter relationship between Nico and Jo, but also when talking about the violence and riots in South Africa. This book talks about a lot of issues such as violence, rape, racism, misogyny and death, so it’s definitely not a light read. However, even with such a heavy topic, Marli Roode does include witty moments, making the read more complex in tone and character development.
Speaking of complexity, the most complex characters in this book are Jo and her father, Nico. I don’t think I’ve ever read much a strange, complicated relationship with such equally strange, complicated characters. As Jo is the narrator, I understand what she’s thinking and what her motivations are, but with Nico? He is, by far, the most complicated and unreliable character I’ve ever read about. He continuously lies, so it’s hard to know or to even guess when he’s telling the truth. He speaks to his daughter that is, at most, incredibly inappropriate yet it’s implied that there were times in Jo’s childhood when he truly cared about her. The man is shrouded in mystery, which makes him an intriguing character that stands out. I don’t like him, but I can safely say I’ve never read a character like Nico before.
But, and this is a big but and I cannot lie, I had to be in the mood to read this book. It is very slow-paced and there were sections when I thought would be fast-paced, but it was slow. Also, there were events in the story that jumped ahead in time, which got me lost quite a bit and it took a little while to find myself again. This can be quite jarring especially since even during moments that should be thrilling and fast-paced, Jo’s descriptions are so long and detailed that it slows down the pace. Even though they are good, original descriptions, it didn’t feel right for the moment.
Another problem I had with the book is its ambiguous ending. Even though there are clues to indicate a few possibilities, nothing is really made clear about what really happened. As Jo’s narration is very detailed, it’s a strange juxtaposition to have a huge plot element be so vague. Despite Jo at the end imagining what really happened, it was still ambiguous. Though, I have to be honest, I can’t think of an ending that would have been better. Maybe a bit more clarification would have been worked for me, but that is a just personal opinion.
I will give Call It Dog 3.5 stars out of 5. Despite its constant slow pacing, it is a complex book with a strong, heavy atmosphere of post-Apartheid South Africa.
Thank you for reading!