The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage audiobook review – quietly subversive | Audiobooks


A powerful and quietly subversive study of masculinity set in rural Montana, Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel is enjoying a moment in the spotlight thanks to Jane Campion’s film adaptation, which has been nominated for 12 Oscars. The book opens with a vivid description of a rancher castrating a young bull and tossing its testicles on the fire next to the branding irons, the symbolism of which is hard to miss.

Actor Chad Michael Collins is the narrator, giving distinctive voice to the sibling protagonists: the domineering and loudly homophobic Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch in the film) and his quieter, meeker brother, George. The pair, who are “more than partners, more than brothers”, oversee the running of a vast cattle farm inherited from their retired parents, and still sleep in the bedroom they shared as children.

But their steady existence is upset when George unexpectedly marries a local widow, Rose, and moves her into the ranch. This prompts Phil to embark on a monstrous bullying campaign in an attempt to drive her away. Matters are further complicated when Rose’s “sissy” son, Peter, comes to live with them, forcing Phil to confront who he really is.

The audiobook comes with a fascinating and heartfelt afterword written and read by The Shipping News author Annie Proulx, who hails Savage’s “brilliant and tough book … Something aching and lonely and terrible of the west is caught for ever [in his novels], and the most compelling and painful of these books is The Power of the Dog, a work of literary art.”

The Power of the Dog is available on Penguin Audio, 8hr 20 min

Further listening

The Sleeping Beauties
Suzanne O’Sullivan, Picador, 10hr 16min
The neurologist and writer narrates her book on outbreaks of “mystery” illnesses, such as refugees falling into prolonged comas.

Olga Dies Dreaming
Xochitl Gonzalez, Hachette Audio, 11hr 22min
Two Puerto Rican siblings in New York grapple with family and identity in this powerful debut novel, read by the author.

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