Monday, January 16, 2012

127. SHORT STORY MONDAY: The Mistress's Dog by David Medalie

David Medalie's story, The Mistress's Dog, should have been read last year as part of the Caine Prize Shortlist 2009 to 2011 Reading Challenge. I carried it with me but never came around to reading it, perhaps preferring to read the books rather than the single stories or perhaps discouraged by seeming bad taste that I found most of the Caine Prize Shortlist. If any of these was the reason why I failed to complete that challenge last year, then I should have persevered since this is a quite different and hilarious story.

The Mistress's Dog was shortlisted for the 12th Caine Prize for African Writing in 2011 and was included in the Caine Prize for African Writing anthology To See the Mountain and other stories (2011). However, it was first published in The Mistress's Dog and other stories (1996 - 2010).

The dog had outlived its owner, The Mistress, and was now in the care of Nola. In fact, it had outlived the two individuals who made Nola's life silently difficult, Nola's husband included. And even though she preferred cats to dogs she had been left with this canine whose life and, with time, death she must look after. An animal that reminds her that there is really an end to life, that to every beginning there is an end, which makes her also think about her own end.

The Mistress came from a rural, religious, and poor background but had 'worked' hard to make a career for herself. She was single but not entirely, and her career consisted of working as a secretary to a powerful man and also as his mistress.
She remained single, devoted herself to what she called her 'career' (she was a powerful man's secretary), and had an affair that endured for over a decade with a married man (that same powerful man).
And this powerful man is Nola's husband. And Nola knew. She also knew that The Mistress was far from what she made people believe she was. So that even though people thought her to be beautiful, bold, daring, unconventional, libertarian, and happy - laughing excessively even when it was not warranted - Nola knew otherwise; she knew she was weak and fearful and frightened of being alone even though she flagrantly displayed her independence, which was limited to only marriage as the powerful man provided for all her needs even when they were not seeing each other again.

After thirty years of service with the powerful man, fifteen of which there was an intimate relationship, the man retired with Nola and so too was the single The Mistress, who thought it unwise to work for any other person. Unfortunately, the powerful man left with his wife to Cape Town leaving The Mistress in Johannesburg. Lonely she grew decrepit and moved into a home for the aged. It was during this time that the powerful man, now weak and suffering, begged her wife to take The Mistress's dog into her keep.

All through the novel, man's name is not mentioned and so too was the Mistress's name. The story provides a hilarious and at the same time scathing look at some of the choices and decisions that have become fashionable these days.
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Brief Bio: David Medalie is a South African writer and an academic. He is a professor in the Department of English. His first collection of short stories, The Shooting of Christmas Cows was published in 1990. Prior to its publication it won the Ernst van Heerden Award. His debut novel, The Shadow Follows, was published in 2006. It was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Literary Award for Best First Book and the M-Net Literary Award.  A new collection of short stories The Mistress's Dog was published in 2010. (Read more about him here)

Rating: 5.5/6.0

8 comments:

  1. This does sound like a really interesting story, and I love the way that it looks at relationships through oblique directions instead of head on. I might have to grab a copy of this one when I can. Great review today, Nana!

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    1. Yes, this view of relationship rather oblique.

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  2. Interesting story, though I can't come to terms with Nola's long suffering acceptance of the affair, not to talk about her 'humility' in accepting to care for the Mistress' dog. Does her husband measure her worth in terms of a dog? I could be wrong. (by ceston40@blog.com

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    1. I was shocked by Nola's timorousness. I think perhaps it's the financial security the man provides and the ability to move within a certain class of people. Regardless, at the point when the man needed him to survive she could still have refused taking in the dog. Or perhaps she took in the dog just to 'spit on the Mistress's grave' because as it turned out even the dog outlived the once 'fresh' mistress. I guess when the issue of the dog came, the man still considered the feelings of the mistress and not that of the wife, Nola. As to him measuring her wife's worth in terms of the dog, I think it might not be so. Because he broke off with the mistress for a long time before he retired and went to live with the wife alone. I guess it was a sense 'caring' that made him do that, even if at the expense of the wife.

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  3. Frankly, I think the story could have been better written. The 201 Caine Prize shortlist was a bit weak. But hey, I'm not a judge!

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    1. Yes. I was about to say that. It's a characteristic of all the shortlist I've read like What Molly Knew. Yet, we aren't allowed to say it lest we be attacked by individuals who think they can do a better analyses and understand the story more.

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  4. Glad to hear you finally really liked one of the Caine stories. It seems rare :)

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    1. Yet you read Kinna's comment. You definitely might not like this regarding the passivity of the Nolan, a woman who had been hurt and cheated upon and finally been given the mistress's dog to look after. Except that she thought she had avenged them (her husband and the Mistress) by outliving both. I liked it because at least it deviated from the norm that has become the shortlist.

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