BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bea Reviews Alfred Ollivant's Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir by Lydia Davis

Publisher: NYR Children's Collection 
Format Read: eGalley
Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Buying Links: Amazon* | Book Depository* | Barnes & Noble |
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Blurb from goodreads:

Bob, Son of Battle, is a sheepdog so canny and careful of his flock, so deeply devoted to his master, James Moore, and so admired for his poise and wisdom by the residents of a small village in the rugged mountains of England’s North Country, that young though he is, he is already known as Owd Bob. In a recent contest, Bob has proved himself a matchless sheepdog, and if he wins the trophy two more times, he’ll be seen as equal to the legendary sheepdogs of yore.

But Bob has a real rival: Red Wull, with his docked tail and bristling yellow fur, a ferocious creature, just like his diminutive master, Adam McAdam, a lonely Scot, estranged not only from his English neighbors but from his son, David. McAdam just can’t stop belittling this strapping young man, all the more so since David began courting Moore’s beautiful daughter Maggie. But what McAdam really wants is for his beloved Wullie to wrest the prize from Bob once and for all.

The story takes a darker turn when a troubling new threat to the local flocks emerges. A dog has gone rogue, sneaking out at night to feast on the flesh and blood of the sheep he is bound to protect. Again and again, new sheep fall prey to this relentless predator; again and again, he slips away undetected. This master hunter can only be among the boldest and sharpest of dogs . . .

Bob, Son of Battle has long been a beloved classic of children’s literature both in America and in England. Here the celebrated author and translator Lydia Davis, who first read and loved this exciting story as a child, has rendered the challenging idioms of the original into fluent and graceful English of our day, making this tale of rival dogs and rival families and the shadowy terrain
between Good and Bad accessible and appealing to readers of all ages.

Bea's Thoughts:

I'm not sure if I read this as a child or not but I'm reasonably sure I've seen one of the movie adaptations. Much of the book seemed familiar but more as if I'd watched it, not read it. For many years, this was a classic children's book but it's seen less use in recent years, at least here in the US. I suspect the setting and dialogue have a lot to do with that. Set in England's sheep country in the early 1900's, the accent and dialogue are thick in the original and it uses a lot of words no longer used. Davis took the original, 'translated' the dialogue into a more understandable one that still seems to ring true and also cleaned up some of Ollivant's vocabulary. This edition is far more accessible while staying true to the original.

The original:

"I've tholed mair fra him, wullie, than Adam M'adam ever thocht from ony man."

This version:

 "I have endured more from him, wullie, than Adam Mcadam ever thought he would have to endure from any man."

The first is understandable, with some effort, while the latter is much easier.

Several times as I was reading, I had to remind myself that this was not based on a true story but a work of fiction. Yes, it felt that real. :) Ollivant and Davis refrain, for the most part, from anthropomorphizing the dogs, which contributed to the realistic feel. The story sucked me in from the first page and kept me reading. I didn't remember enough to know how it turned and I needed to know.

The story has an omniscient third person narrator but we also spend time in Adam McAdam's head; interestingly, we spend little time in the head of James Moore, the other main character. James is a decent human being, flawed but essentially good. Adam McAdam has some brief moments of kindness and decency but he's proud, hard, jealous, insecure, and has a vicious mean streak. One thing I didn't like, and in this the book is a reflection of its time, is the casual attitude towards child abuse. Just a heads up if that's a trigger for you. The story is as much, if not more, about the humans who own the dogs as it is the dogs themselves.

Maybe it's because we spend a fair amount of time in Adam's head, but I found his character was better developed than any of the others in the book. A nasty man, he has the occasional moment where I actually liked him or empathized with him. And then he'd be an a**hole again. I did root for his son David, who could also be a real dick wad but was basically a good person, and for James Moore, Bob's owner. The story occurs over about seven or eight years and we get a bird's eye of the rivalry between James and Adam and between Bob and Red Wull. The rivalry and hate are only exacerbated by a Romeo and Juliet-type romance and the deaths of many sheep by an unknown dog. Is the sheep killer Bob? Is it Red Wull? Another dog entirely? Everyone has an opinion and few are shy about vocalizing theirs.

"Bob, Son of Battle" is a thrilling, emotional, powerful story of love, hate, rivalry, and life in the Dales of England in the early 1900s. At times unsettling, it provides a peak at farming and oh, what a hard life that is! You can ignore that if you like and focus on the rivalry between the dogs or the one between the people or on the romance. There's something for everyone. I'd recommend this for ages 10 or so on up.


  1. I always find it interesting how topics that are such triggers for us now are treated in older books. The translated version definitely seems like the right choice. I think it'd be hard to get into the rhythm of the story while having to decipher the original! I don't think this is for me but I wish I had come across this one years ago. My daughter would have loved it!

    1. I think these days, with the language differences, the updated version is the way to go. It can be interesting how topics are handled in different time periods, an if sometimes upsetting look into into another time and place.

  2. How have I never even HEARD of this book? Given my love for British children's literature, you'd think I'd have come across it somewhere. Perhaps it didn't catch on in the US because of the thick North Country dialect. Well, it's past time I read it. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

    1. LOL I don't know. It does have a different title in the UK. I hope you enjoy it!

  3. Good job researching this one with the original v the translated. I don't think I was a big children's book reader, I immediately jumped to Sweet Valley High as soon as I can finish books. Fairy tales and other books bored me. That or maybe I'm too excited to grow up and get boyfriends LOL

    1. I can't take too much credit for the research as the 'translator', Davis, provided the info in the afterword of the book. I never read SVH, I was into fairy tales and mysteries. :D


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