SECOND OPINION: The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn

Review published on January 29, 2018.

There’s a description written towards the end of this novel that might at first glance seem to be a kind of summary of the plot: “it involves a middle-aged man and a needy little girl and a boat not much bigger than a matchbox…..”

However, by the end of the book the narrative has become much more than this. My original feeling was that this was just a rather pleasant but rather slow-moving and sentimental tale but by the last page the book had really gripped me emotionally.

Colin has long been estranged from his ex-wife and son Michael who both left to live in France after the divorce. Relations between father and son used to be very close but have become strained and distant, especially after Colin said unforgivable things about Michael’s French wife Charlotte.

Now Charlotte is dead, her neck broken after falling downstairs just as she was about to walk out of the marriage. And Michael is on remand accused of her murder, a crime he fully admits.

After hearing the news Colin sets off for Paris, bringing his homemade boat Dragonfly with him on a trailer. Colin has never met his nine-year old granddaughter Delphine before and now he has somehow agreed to take her on a summer trip down the waterways of France. Episodes charting their progress alternate with scenes in the prison as Michael faces his bleak future in the company of his aggressive cellmate Laroche.

Kate Dunn’s writing is straightforward, occasionally poetic in describing the countryside Colin and Delphine pass through, sometimes harsh when she writes the scenes of prison life, which I have to say I found less convincing.

The psychology of the characters is very well done: the way Colin and Michael are both facing up to issues about fatherhood, the depiction of a damaged child and Colin’s tentative reaching out for happiness in middle-age.

So a novel that is definitely more than it first seems to be and one that might produce interesting discussions in book groups.

Gwenda Major 4/4

The Dragonfly by Kate Dunn
Aurora Metro Books 9781911501039 pbk Oct 2017

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