The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

A quick rundown… The retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of a mute boy and his dogs.

Strengths: Different to what I usually read, powerful prose.

Weaknesses: Dragged for me in several parts

Why I read it: Book club read

Pages: 513 (ebook)

Published: 2008

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Setting: America

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

This was the first book I read when I joined a new book club. I’m not sure of how and why it was chosen – it’s probably not a book I would have chosen if I’d been establishing a book club! Perhaps it was because this book has been likened to a retelling of Hamlet in Midwest America sometime around the 1960s-1970s (I don’t think a time period was ever specified).

Edgar Sawtelle is our main character as you may have guessed. Born mute, he communicates through sign language. His parents run a dog breeding kennel, where immense training is carried out and Edgar’s dog, Almondine, is always beside him. It seems like a pretty good life. One day his uncle Claude returns to the farm on a mission, and everything in Edgar’s life starts to fall apart until he leaves the only place he has known. Should he return?

This is a very serious book. There’s few opportunities for a laugh or even a smile. The content is quite mature and serious as Edgar struggles with the changes to his life. Dog lovers would also enjoy this book – there is a lot on the training, caring and reactions of the dogs. Not being a dog person, I skimmed these parts.

Wroblewski has written an excellent book – it is full of symbolism, phrases and scenarios that make you think. Each character has a particular role to play and there’s absolutely nothing extraneous in this book. Edgar is a unique character to play with, given that he can’t speak, but his communication with the dogs is beyond most humans. The ending, while I didn’t like it, made sense and was a fitting conclusion.

I just didn’t like this book. Technically, it’s brilliant. For a book club read, it provokes hours of discussion and analysis of the motivations of the characters, symbolism and themes. I’m not sure whether it’s the dog thing, but I didn’t really enjoy the story. Edgar is quite likeable (even though some of his actions I found odd) and his parents are lovely. The setting is explained beautifully. I just didn’t find myself looking forward to reading it each day and it dragged.

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4 thoughts on “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Add yours

  1. I guess either something grabs you or it doesn’t, and sometimes you can appreciate something while knowing that it’s not your thing. I really loved this book, though.

  2. I haven’t read this one but I recognize the title as an Oprah’s Book Club pick. That may have something to do with it achieving bestseller status and why your club picked it. Maybe. 🙂

  3. Aww, too bad this book didn’t work for you. I loved it at the time I read it, it’s full of symbolism. I generally love dogs in books so maybe that’s why I loved it so much, and I particularly loved all the dog training bits. And Almondine, I loved Almondine and felt so bad when she died.

    I do agree with you that the book is slow in many places and could have been better-edited.

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