Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Review)


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
David Wroblewski, 2008
566 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2009

Enough has been written and said about this book, fill a book—and a book at least as long as this one is.

Sawtelle is an Oprah pick, and many were distressed that she chose a book ending on such a tragic note. But Edgar is a 20th-century retelling of Hamlet, and as you know Shakespeare's tragedies are...tragic.

Complaints have also been leveled about the overly detailed passages on the genetics of dog breeding. That's probably a fair criticism, but those sections needn't be overly burdensome. Just blow through them.

What I love about Sawtelle is the beauty of the prose, the depth of Wroblewski's characters and the sheer ingenuity of his adaptation. Trudy as Queen Gertrude and Claude as King Claudius are pretty obvious, but Wroblewski fills out their backgrounds and personalities and gives them a rich complexity lacking in Shakespeare. (Oops, I say that?)

At the heart of this story is the ability of young Edgar, who is mute, to communicate with his dogs, a brilliant plot device that highlights the deep and mysterious affinity between humans and canines. The ultimate question raised is the degree to which animals, including homo sapiens, can be truly domesticated, and the thinness of that layer of civilization that coats us all.

Sawtelle is a challenging and wonderful read. It might be intriguing to read Hamlet (oh sure) or chose one of the terrific film adaptations (Kenneth Branaugh's or Mel Gibson's). Compare the book to the original to see how Wroblewski developed his parallel.

See our Reading Guide for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

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