A couple of weeks ago, I was sent a review copy of Picador’s forthcoming Southern Cross the Dog, the debut novel from Bill Cheng. Already published in America, Southern Cross the Dog will be published in hardback in the UK in October. Here are some of the things that have been said about it already…
Cheng’s prose evokes the eerie, textured music of Cormac McCarthy . . . unforgettable – Wall Street Journal
Incredibly daring & powerful..not only does Bill Cheng set the language on fire, he creates a whole new territory of story-telling – Colum McCann
Bill Cheng set out to write a great book, an important book. He conjures up the American South with a deliberate homage to William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury . . . – The Washington Post
With comparisons to Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner (basically all my favourites!), I was pretty certain that I would like it, and I really wasn’t disappointed. The novel is amazing.
Following Robert Chatham after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, it begins with him as an eight year old boy, taking care of his mentally ill mother as their small familuy tries to find shelter from the flood. Soon Robert is abandoned and alone, and the narration drifts after him. Robert’s story is told by different people, and from character viewpoints that sometimes don’t even include him, until they build up a picture which explains something else. Some of the most emotive chapters are those which focus on his family; explaining his father’s decision to give Robert away, and the reasons for his mother’s illness.
The language is stunning, and I can absolutely see why Cheng has been compared to McCarthy. The narrative follows different threads of the story at different times, using whichever character is best able to tell that part of the story, but each character is wholly their own – rather than just vehicles to tell Robert’s story. Life in Southern Cross the Dog is a struggle, and the difficulty of simply living is beautifully drawn here. Inspired by the blues music of the South, Southern Cross the Dog is an incredible first novel, haunting, dark and epic. I’m already planning to re-read it, and I’ll be recommending it when it’s released in October.