I’m not entirely sure how to feel about Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume. On the one hand, it is an intense character study of an intriguingly distant man. On the other, it’s a slow-paced story about a strange man who gets a dog. The last book I finished before this one was Fifteen Dogs, so maybe I have canine overload.
The book is narrated by Ray, a fifty-seven year old loner, and addressed entirely to his dog, One Eye; mauled by a badger and adopted by Ray, One Eye is a difficult and occasionally vicious dog who is unlikely to change my existing less than affectionate view of his species. Marley and Me, this is not (not that I’ve read Marley and Me, obviously. So, for all I know, Marley is a one-eyed canine psychopath too).
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a very subtle, slow-burning story. The style, with Ray talking to One Eye and that forming the whole narrative, creates an almost suffocating sense of isolation; Ray talks to One Eye not just in the normal way that people talk to their dogs, but because he has nobody else to talk to. This was the part of the novel which most fascinated me; Ray has clearly had a very strange and sad life, the details of which are involved so slowly and quietly that you can almost miss them while you read. My heart did break a little bit for Ray, and I was touched by the parallels between the maimed dog who knows no way to interact with other dogs besides attacking them, and his owner who fears interaction with other people.
I suppose this inability to talk to people is at the root of the key event of the novel; as it’s in the blurb, I feel like it’s okay to say that something bad happens, resulting in Ray and One Eye abandoning their home and going on the run. Ray’s social inabilities mean that he can’t think of another way to cope with what has happened, and running away seems like the only option.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a peculiar book; not a lot happens, there’s barely any dialogue and it’s a two-hander insofar as there can be such a thing when one of the ‘hands’ is a dog. This makes it quite difficult to get into, I think, but serves to emphasise all the reasons to be absorbed in Ray’s story in the first place.