The Isle of Dogs
Daniel Davies
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Buy *The Isle of Dogs* by Daniel Davies online

The Isle of Dogs
Daniel Davies
Serpent's Tail
192 pages
February 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Davies’ dark and sexually subversive novel is a moral fable of a man drifting through life with only the ever-increasing comfort of physical pleasure as his guide. Thirty-nine-year-old Jeremy Shepherd, a self-styled “dirty-minded soul,” spends his days planning furtive trysts with like-minded strangers in the shadowy corners of car parks, country lanes and abandoned building sites, he and his comrades always on the hunt for some kind of sexual pleasure.

Once a fashionable and trendy publishing executive in London, almost overnight Jeremy’s life unravels. Affected with a bizarre and frightening sensation of “acute self-consciousness,” Jeremy gives it all up to pursue his dream of simplicity and “feline self-containment.” Returning to live with his aging parents in a provincial Northern town, Jeremy finds a low-level job in the English civil service, seemingly content to drift through the rest of his life with no center and with limited ambition.

Jeremy’s efforts to seek out sex with strangers via Internet groups is perhaps a way to instill stillness in his life, a form of peace. Here people act out their deepest fantasies while other shadowy figures watch from the sidelines, barely visible. Amid the omnipresent CCT cameras, a couple in a car: a man and a woman entwined in passion play their game of chess, the kind of game that tells Jeremy that he won’t be leaving the car park empty-handed.

As the stroking and the groaning from inside and outside the car intensifies, the men - and some women - watch them while climaxing, gradually trickling off into the dark night. Jeremy never does see their faces; his only contact with them is through text-messaging. In the delicate mix of moonglow and tungsten light, Jeremy suddenly finds himself drawn to three others: Tariq, handsome, black-eyed, Iraqi-born; Marlon, ex-boy band star with handsome, mixed-race features; and the sexually voracious, stunningly beautiful Lucy P.

As the erotic outdoor encounters intensify, Jeremy and his new friends are increasingly stripped of inhibition as violence from the local yobs, police patrols, and a simmering racism menace the outer edges of their game. Exposing the dark side of a society where sex is cleared of cultural clutter and laid bare, Davies leaves nothing to the imagination with graphic descriptions of these erotic encounters, often raw, edgy and dirty.

In a world where “man isn’t separable from his lifestyle: he is his lifestyle,” the author exposes a unique democracy where the only goal is gratification and nirvana lies in purity and singleness of purpose. Jeremy’s feelings - an absence of need and want - are fuelled by his encounters. He rides his bike alone with his thoughts, his plans and his kitbag, “enjoying the hushed, hair-blown freedom that only cycling can bring.”

Throughout the novel, Jeremy remains a silent observer to the tawdry, sometimes aggressive behavior around him while he and his friends are labeled as “perverts” by the wider world which doesn’t seem to understand.

Although a climax involving brutal bashing and a shocking revelation lend added weight to this slim story, the author’s inventive themes drive the impact of this book: the nature of rampant appetites and the collateral damage of sexual attraction, as well as the messy compromises we humans have to make, holding fast to our social obligations while keeping in check our need to follow our deepest, darkest desires.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2009

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