The eeriness that underscores Hartnett's Wilful Blue is even more prevalent in this grittier novel, also set in rural Australia. From the very beginning, readers will sense an unnatural aura surrounding the Willow family and the desolate land where they live. Isolated from townspeople, brutalized by their father and ignored by their unstable mother, the five Willow children (some of them grown) run the farm as well as a dilapidated caravan park, a place guests never visit twice. Yearning for but fearing freedom, the children remain a tightly closed clique until Oliver, the youngest boy, shares family secrets with one of the caravan tenants, an artist, who has become infatuated with Oliver's 23-year-old sister. The first chapter's grisly images of snarling dogs, butchered sheep and incestuous acts foreshadow the series of bizarre events that spiral toward a tragic conclusion involving the murder of the most sensitive and talented member of the family. Both fascinating and disturbing, this chilling story reveals how morality can be twisted by obsessive family loyalty. Ages 13-up. (Sept.)
The ALAN Review
- John H. Bushman
Powerful, ravaging, disturbing - all words that characterize Sleeping Dogs. The Willow family - Edward, Michelle, Jordan, Oliver, and Speck, the children; Griffin and Grace, the parents - live on a farm which also houses a dilapidated trailer park. The family is ruthlessly controlled by Griffin, who has turned his wife into a non-person who sits and caresses her white porcelain tea pot. He also physically abuses his son Jordan. A visitor to the farm learns of the tragedies that are there - one even more dreadful than physical abuse - and threatens to make them public. The family needs to protect itself and sets out to do just that. The book, especially the last thirty pages, keeps the reader riveted. Hartnett takes on a powerful theme and subtly explodes the shocking truth found in some parts of our society. The book is appropriate for mature readers.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Peek into the insular Down Under world of a family of hardscrabble farmers who operate a caravan park (campground) on the side. Griffin Willow is a domineering, alcoholic, abusive patriarch who intimidates his offspring into shunning the outside world. Grace, his wife, has withdrawn from life after bearing five children. Edward is titular head and eldest of the sibs; beautiful Michelle, 23, has an incestuous relationship with her ``mentally different'' younger brother, Jordan, 20, a talented artist who is regularly and viciously beaten by Griffin. Oliver, 15, harbors futile dreams of escape to college; and Jennifer, 14, is the lost child. Arriving at the campground, Bow Fox, a landscape artist looking for scenes to paint, intrudes. Through bizarre, disconnected bits of dialogue and events, character traits of the protagonists and the facts about the family are subtly revealed to Bow and to readers. Fearing that Bow will inform Griffin about the incest, the sibs hatch a plot to rid themselves of the stranger that capitalizes on his fear of dogs. In the cataclysmic climax, the revelatory note Bow delivers to Griffin drives the man to shoot and kill Jordan. The ironic denouement leaves Bow Fox wishing the family well, unaware of the havoc he has wreaked. Which sleeping dog should have been left to lie? Griffin? Bow, the catalyst of all the carnage amidst the ugliness and chaos? Jordan and Michelle, whose behavior has broken taboos? Or even young Oliver, who let slip the secret because he so desperately wanted to have a friend? This weird tale of one disturbed family is as hot and dry as Kristy Gunn's Rain (Atlantic Monthly, 1995) was sopping wet, and is equally chilling. It is bleak, stark, and offers no hope for a better tomorrow.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA
Hartnett's disturbing but beautifully written novel of incest and murder is for mature readers only. The misanthropic, sadistic father of five children, ages 12 to 25, Griffin Willow runs a trailer park on his dilapidated farm in rural Australia. Isolated from all outside influences, even the neighboring small town, the Willow family has created its own oppressive, sheltered, and decaying world. Despite abuse from their father and a silent, withdrawn mother, all five children live at home and help run the trailer park. Twenty-three-year-old Michelle and her younger brother Jordan have found solace in an incestuous relationship, which they carefully conceal from their parents. When Bow Fox, an itinerant artist, comes to stay at the park, their 15-year-old brother, Oliver, accidently reveals their secret. So begins an agonizing, irreversible progression of violence and betrayal. Told entirely in the present tense, the spare but eloquent prose softens the horror of the plot, while it inexorably pulls the reader toward the terrible conclusion. Although the violence is never gratuitous, and the sex is only implied, the powerful narrative and horrific yet believable story leave the reader stunned and empty. Hartnett captures the savage, fierce emotions of a family twisted in a miserable net of their own making.