Cadaver Dog demands to be read again and again.
Poet Luke Best and book cover of Cadaver Dogs. Images: UQP.
Cadaver Dog is a concerto in words, the lead soloist the sole survivor of a disaster. The words swell and recede like the overwhelming flood they seek to evoke, beautiful words that describe the indescribable – death, despair, remorse and guilt.
Cadaver Dog is a compelling, lyrical verse-novel.
Poetry such as this, like great music, cries out to be consumed and enjoyed again and again. It tells the story of a lone survivor of a natural disaster:
'To offer something of my plight, without
the tedium, would be to say I’m alive. To offer
more would only serve the voyeur, the delighter – those
who trawl the news for cataclysm. Those who pore archives
gore and bloated bodies, and say pity their souls while they gulp and
refresh their feeds. Those to whom floods are paltry, and less is never
We never learn the name of the lone narrator. She struggles to survive a flood that inundates her home; she weeps the loss of her children and recalls a broken marriage. She avoids the rescuers that come too late and mocks them for their inefficiency. She is close to suicide.
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Well-known Australian country musician Adam Brand, in his song Food Water Shelter Love, reminds us that after food, the most important survival requirement is shelter. For most of us that shelter is a home, often a house. In Cadaver Dog the protagonist survives in the remains of her home, her house. She describes its flooding and how it appears when the water recedes. She lives in what is left of it:
'The curtains were torrefied strips of hide,
the whitegoods no longer so. The architraves
gluttons. Oh, the gluttony. The beans were only entree.
Then began a binge: the spam, the spaghetti, corn kernels
cream of mushroom; anything with a ring-pull. I walked towards
the hall, peered into it and dry-heaved. Then began a conjuring – a purging.'
This novel stuns with its beauty and astounds with the accuracy of its perceptions. It offers understanding but not hope; its bleakness is relieved by its clarity, but dark and gothic it remains. And tellingly, simply and almost casually, it hints of fire after flood.
5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
Cadaver Dog by Luke Best
Format: Paperback B
Categories: Poetry, Australian
Release Date: 4 September 2020