Review published on November 21, 2017.
Colin Aylesford’s estranged son Michael is in prison in France awaiting trial for murder. Colin’s daughter-in-law has been found dead at the foot of the stairs. Although Colin has not seen Michael for many years he knows that he is not capable of killing anyone and so Colin sets off for France, taking his renovated boat The Dragonfly with him. However, when Colin arrives it is not long before he finds himself caring for his 9-year-old granddaughter Delphine and the pair set sail in The Dragonfly for a summer on the French waterways whilst they await Michael’s case coming to court and its outcome: Michael is pleading guilty.
Not sure quite what to expect when I received this novel, I found it a quirky but heart-warming read. Kate Dunn is a supreme story teller and I was engrossed from the first page.
The characters in the novel are exceptionally well drawn and the developing relationships within the work are the lynch pins around which the action takes place. There is the estrangement between Colin and his son, the troubled history of Colin’s marriage, the state of Michael’s relationship with his now deceased wife, Michael’s developing friendship with his cell mate Laroche, Colin’s feelings for his fellow boatee Tyler, even Colin’s relationship with his boat, but most significantly, and most beautifully drawn, is the growing bond between Colin and his troubled granddaughter, Delphine.
Delphine is understandably confused and disturbed and her behaviour is wonderfully described. She has a catchphrase: “It is not possible” and Colin’s solutions for addressing her sometimes difficult responses is both humorous and heart breaking. There are some particularly poignant occurrences which certainly bring a lump to the throat but these are interspersed with a gentle levity which make the characters even more real.
Alongside this is the growing relationship between Michael and his cell mate Laroche which I felt was incredibly sensitively portrayed and mutually supportive.
The conclusion of the novel is startling and just confirms the multi-layered writing of what may be superficially a charming family drama but has a much darker and more meaningful element to it with the complexity of all the many interactions within its pages.
It is difficult to categorise this novel but I found it a compelling read and can wholeheartedly recommend it. Plenty to discuss in a book group and if this the usual standard and style of Kate Dunn’s writing I am now certainly going to seek out some more of her work.
Kathy Jesson 4/4
The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn
Aurora Metro Press 9781911501039 pbk Oct 2017