Why We Are Here - Briohny Doyle - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Are you ready for pandemic novels? For some of us, it’s still too soon, but for the rest there’s Why We Are Here, the new book by Briohny Doyle – kindly sent to me for review by the wonderful team at Penguin Books Australia.

The narrator, BB, moves to the (fictional) town of Balboa Bay after losing both her father and her partner in rapid succession, during a period of lockdowns and isolation. She lives in a condemned apartment on the beach, with her dog Baby. A neighbour mistakes her for a dog trainer, and she finds herself roped into socialising an aggressive Doberman.

That’s basically all that “happens” in Why We Are Here – it’s one of those literary novels that goes nowhere specific, but fills the story out with achingly introspective narrative. It’s almost stream-of-consciousness at times, and filled with quotes and extracts from writers and filmmakers and philosophers and dog trainers. There’s also no punctuation marks for speech. It’s very Joan Didion meets Maggie Nelson.

Nothing new happens but also everything is happening all at once.

Why We Are Here (Page 176)

Doyle captures the mood of lockdown perfectly, with the circular thoughts and imagined conversations. Her depiction of grief (squared) is also incredibly moving and spot-on. Throughout Why We Are Here, BB imagines what her father and her partner would have said, about anything and everything – the pandemic, the view, her friendships, her writing. (Yes, BB is a writer, and I don’t know what’s been going on for Doyle personally lately, but it feels a little roman-à-clefy.)

But the best part of Why We Are Here, IMHO, is the fact that nothing bad happens to the dogs. I was worried going in, given how many books I’ve read lately where the dog dies, but Baby and the Doberman get the happiest endings of all. I don’t even care if that constitutes a spoiler; I would’ve felt a lot less trepidation going in if I’d known that ahead of time, so consider that my gift to you, dear reader.

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