Review by Linda Richards

 

 

 

Flirt, Punk & Loo

by Emily Carr

Douglas & McIntyre

1997

 

 

 

 

Some 57 years after her death, Douglas & McIntyre have published this compact little book of stories and sketches by artist Emily Carr. The illustrations -- 12 in all -- were created for a calendar that depicted a single year from the point of view of one of Carr's dogs. The stories that accompany the illustrations were originally published as part of Carr's book, The House of All Sorts and cover Carr's experiences as a dog breeder from inception through until the time she decided to discontinue the endeavor. Even though they weren't created for each other, the stories and illustrations work extraordinarily well in this little book.

Flirt, Punk & Loo is the story of Carr's own kennel of "Bobtails" (Old English Sheepdogs), told in the form of 25 carefully rendered vignettes. Carr is, of course, best known as an artist. And though, of late, it has been somewhat fashionable to think of her work as controversial, she remains one of Canada's best known painters.

Though every Canadian school child has heard of Emily Carr, the painter, less people are aware that she also had a considerable following as a writer. During her lifetime, seven of her books were published and all seven received a fair amount of critical success. Her first published book, Klee Wyck won the Governor General's Award in 1941.

Carr wrote the way she painted: bold strokes capture images tightly. A few lines render them completely. Thus, Flirt, Punk & Loo is filled with strong images in just a few pages. For example, this passage from the chapter entitled Blue or Red :

Her skin was like rag ill-washed and rough-dried. Both skin and clothing of the woman were the texture of hydrangea blossoms -- thin, sapless. On exaggeratedly high heels her papery structure tottered.

Not surprisingly, Carr was as adept at capturing the beauty of what she saw and felt with words as she was with paint:

The song of the meadow-lark crumbled away the last remnants of night -- three sad lingering notes followed by an exultant double chuckle that gobbled up the still-vibrating three. For one moment the morning took you far out into vague chill, but your body snatched you back into its cosiness, back to the waiting dogs on the hill top.

Flirt, Punk & Loo is a charming book, and though it might be a suitable gift for a child the writing is sophisticated and touching enough to make it a pleasurable read for the adult art or animal lover.

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards

 

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.