The story “Madame Bovary’s Greyhound” by Karen Russell concerns itself with the greyhound Djali, and her owner, Emma Bovary. It begins with a scene of the two walking through a frosted forest. Emma is weeping (which is one of her favorite hobbies), and try as she might, Djali cannot get her to cheer up. Emma’s marriage to her wealthy husband, Charles, is the main source of her unhappiness, and though Emma’s downtrodden demeanor often saddens her pet, Djali finds each meeting with her owner utterly wonderful, and draws great happiness from Emma. However, as the months draw on, and Emma still is unresponsive to the poor dog, it too grows unhappy, and finds little meaning in the fantastic world around her. Emma begins to cheat on her husband, and pay even less attention to the dog. Djali becomes unruly, forgets her house training, cowers underneath beds, and has sudden spasms before the fireplace. Then one day, only a few days before the Bovarys move to a new town, Djali escapes into the forest and finds there the boundless freedom of a predator. She learns all the woods should offer but after several weeks becomes tired, and lonesome, and hungry. During a rainfall one day, she leaves the cave in which she has been living and slides down a mud bank into a rocky ravine. Her fall has taken her leg, and she believes she is dying. Back in the home of the Bovarys, Emma’s affair has been ended. As the greyhound is lying in the dirt, a games warden finds her and nourishes her back into health. He gives her his own name, Hubert, and there she lives in happiness for several years, before Hubert and little Hubert have a chance run in with Emma, who no longer recognizes the dog.
While this story is based off the novel Madame Bovary, I have not read that novel, so I will not take any of that wish-wash into account while analyzing the story, and will operate as if the story is a stand-alone piece of short fiction.
The story itself allows a very compelling arc, presenting the dog Djali at first happy, and entranced with life, and the reader, after these beautiful, gorgeous, passages of the dog’s happiness and contentment, is met slowly with the dog’s sadness and depression as Emma Bovary begins to drift away from her. Then, the reader sees a victory for the already ingratiated dog. However, this leg of the dog’s life has its own even more threatening problems.
The story was also compelling because of the sheer and utter beauty of almost every phrase. The language is stunning from the beginning of the piece to the end, with images like “wild circuses” when discussing fleas, or a “spray of champagne-yellow birds” when talking about startled finches, or “a spill of jeweled rot like boiling cranberries” when describing the putrid rotting head of a decapitated deer carcass. I would feel compelled read this story solely for the language itself, completely regardless of the plot.
-Thievery for my own writing-
This story has a lot of very interesting elements that one could possibly steal for his or her own writing. The most blatant is, of course, the absolutely drop-dead stunning descriptions mentioned in the previous section of this presentation. I think much of the description was interesting not only because it was beautiful but because it was seen through the eyes of a dog, which functioned as a sort of naïve narrator, and allowed much of the surreal imagery to be glossed quietly with a thin believability. The complication of the canine narrator also brought up another hurdle which the story surmounted with ease; a communication black out. The dog is unable to speak or communicate sufficiently with any of the humans in its life, and this forces the story to communicate with Djali some other way. It did this through the massive amount of description in this story, which, in turn, necessitated the beautiful language of the piece to keep the reader interested through paragraph after paragraph of sheer description. Dialogue breaks these blocks very infrequently.
I also thought the comparisons between Djali the greyhound and Emma Bovary were a particularly interesting addition to the story, as they both had many of the same emotions at the same time (sadness, desire to escape, loneliness) but expressed the emotions very differently, and, while this should have been obvious to the reader seeing as how one of the characters is a human woman and the other is a dog, I found it interesting that those differences and similarities were played upon so heavily in the story, and I want to try to use more comparisons similar to the ones found in this piece to help flesh out characters in my own writing.
- Was this a happy ending, or a sad ending?
- Why did the story end there? Why not earlier, or later?
- Did the story stand alone, or do you think more reference to the book would have been helpful?