Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review ~ Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman

John Mutford's The Real Canadian Book Challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog motivated me to set a goal: read 13 Canadian books about dogs within the next year, and review them here at Gabe n Arch. The second book I've read is Polly Evans's Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman: Travels with Sled Dogs in Canada's Frozen North.

Polly Evans is a British travel writer, and one who combines travel with a challenge. In Mad Dogs, Evans writes about 10 weeks spent in the Yukon, learning to run sled dogs. Her base is Muktuk, Frank Turner's home near Whitehorse. Turner competed in 22 Yukon Quests and operates Muktuk both a tourist operation and the home base for his son Saul, who is now running in the Quests.

Evans learns about sled dogs from the ground up, literally, beginning with scooping the poop of Muktuk's 108 dogs and learning how to properly fit dog booties. Her first excursion (or two) with a sled is somewhat hapless, but she hangs in there 'til the bitterly cold end, when she spends 6 days covering part of the Yukon Quest trail in -44 degree weather. Brrrrrr.

The book contains mini-lessons on history and geography, which, while interesting, are somewhat distracting. The tone is different in these sections and feel wedged into the main narrative. And, speaking of the main narrative, I was surprised that there wasn't more about the dogs! Now, of course, that's coming from someone who is writing a dog blog and who set out to read books about dogs. Still the title contains the word "Dogs" twice so I expected a lot of canine confidential. I was also surprised that as an urban-dwelling Brit, Evans doesn't note a reaction to the dogs' living conditions or the controversy over sled racing. Evans has an extensive photo gallery online from her time in the Yukon, and I'm glad I checked that out. The many photos of Muktuk's dogs add a dimension to her story that I was looking for.

That said, if you approach this book as a travel narrative that takes place in the Yukon, I think you will walk away as a happy camper. Evans is an engaging writer and she is not above laughing at herself. She is awestruck by the beauty of our far north and she inspires a similar awe in her readers. And I certainly admire her spirit in tackling such an adventure.


John Mutford said...

I'd love this book I think.

Jacki said...

Ah, too bad! I already swapped it out at a book swap otherwise I'd offer to send it to you. It really was quite good.