“Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law….” (4.5 stars)
Source- personal copy
This edition published May 16th, 2012. First published in 1903.
I read the Kindle version. The paperback version is approximately 150 pages
With all this unprecedented scorching weather in the UK lately, it admittedly felt a bit strange to be reading a book about the frozen north, and a very atmospheric one at that!
The Call of the Wild is a classic that I have been meaning to read for a really long time. Happily, it also falls within the remit of the Guardian 1000 novels everyone must read list, (which I have foolishly started to attempt) so getting around to it at some point seemed like a good idea.
Set in the United States during the late 19th century, the plot tells the story of Buck, a domesticated St-Bernard-Scotch Collie, who is dog-napped from his life of luxury in suburban California and after a spate of brutal mistreatment, is eventually sold to become a sled dog in Alaska. Ensconced in this brutal new environment, Buck has to contend with not only the vicious climate, but also learn to toil for his new human owners and rally with the rest of the dog pack against a hostile landscape.
I loved the fact that this captivating story is told from the perspective of Buck himself. I imagine an animal narrator wasn’t particularly common when this book was written, so may have seemed pretty unusual at the time. Through Buck’s eyes the reader witnesses the stark beauty of Alaska but by contrast also experiences the cruelty of humans (of which there is sadly a lot of). Though the plot itself is pretty simplistic in essence, the story remains beautifully told throughout, almost haunting in its stunning descriptions.
Buck undergoes a real journey through the course of this emotive book. It is easy to compartmentalise it and say ‘he’s just a dog,’ (and a fictional one at that!) but he really came alive for me- and I’m more of a cat than a dog lover. He is forced to adjust to his new surroundings, merely to survive both the landscape and the harsh treatment metered to him by humans and the other sled dogs. Despite his early domesticity, the primordial instincts inbred in him are powerfully drawn and he is simply unable to fight them in the end.
This is a terrific story of survival, endurance, environment and adventure, and of a spectacular animal that later becomes a legend, amongst both man and its own kind. It has a wonderfully drawn mysterious, fable-like ending that, to me, felt really appropriate for the context of the rest of the book.
Safe to say that I will be reading more books by Jack London at some point soon, though I might wait until the bitter chill of winter sets in before picking up any more!