Phillip Clement reviews Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn, the debut novella by British author David John Griffin.
In David John Griffin’s debut magical realism novella, Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn, things are not quite as they seem. Audrey Ackerman, an elderly volunteer at the Animal Welfare Union, is summoned to a 17th century coach house following a request to investigate a strange late-night canine disturbance at the inn. She writes, in a series of emails to her manager, Stella Bridgeport, that she has been shaken from ‘crazy experiences’ and ‘frightening memories’ following her sightings of a paranormal nature. What follows is a bizarre tale that is narrated by a series ‘found’ documents that include the emails between the two women and extracts from the journal and authorial notes of Gideon Hadley, a passing science fiction writer.
I saw – despite only seeing its form from the periphery of my vision – what can only be described as a ghost of a shadow. It was like red smoke, billowing and convulsing at times in the shape of a large dog which moved fast over the inner walls of the courtyard… Sometimes it was clear that this ghost-smoke shadow-creature was running, but with its legs moving in slow motion despite its apparent speed along those walls. And this apparition, or whatever it was, would vanish if I looked directly at it through a window.
Android receptionists, spectral hounds, unreliable narrators and angelic demi gods combine to create a story that is as startling as it is extraordinary. With so many elements on display in Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn it’s easy for a casual reader to lose themselves, but Griffin does well to keep the various aspects of the novel together. This being said, while I appreciated the second account of the curious events of the Two Dogs, I found that Gideon’s notes broke the flow of the narrative. Though I initially took the employment of the journal as a narrative device to be an ingenious way to disentangle and reclaim an interesting narrative from the looping clutches of the emails between the two women of the Animal Welfare Union, to some extent, I wished that Griffin had gone further in his use of found texts, including more than simple allusions and pastiches of Google and Wikipedia; perhaps emulating some of those elements found in Cynan Jones’ revisioning of the Peredur Tale, Bird, Blood, Snow, from the Mabinogion sequence. Jones’ brutal novella cunningly collates numerous related articles and transcripts to advance the drama and heighten the sense of reality.
In spite of this, Griffin succeeds in creating three distinct voices that rise above a scattered narrative. Because of the delayed replies, the emails respond as though they were diary entries and leave the reader with the sense that they are meeting each narrator at an entirely different psychological standpoint. I liked this effect and thought that the story benefited from this unreliable narration.
Although I am a writer of fiction, all of my journal entries are based on truth. If you don’t trust me or believe what I write, what more can I say?
On the whole, Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn, comes together nicely to deliver a satisfying finale. Though I felt that Griffin would benefit from placing more faith in his readers; the novella ends with a rather flabby prologue that takes great pains to tie-up all the loose ends in unnecessary detail. Still, moving beyond this, Griffin has produced an ambitious novella that should inspire readers of magic realism to look out for the two novels (The Unusual Possession of Alaister Stubb and Infinite Rooms) that he is due to publish over the course of year.
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Two Dogs at the One Dog Inn is available now as paperback or ebook. You can follow David’s work by visiting his website.