‘Come on, it’s such a crap name. A dot is the smallest, most insignificant thing there is. And it’s a full stop, so an ending. I mean, who on earth would call their child Dot?’
Dot doesn’t know why her father named her Dot because she’s never met him. Not only that, she doesn’t know his name because her mother’s never told her what it is.
Dot was stuck in that creepy house of hers with a grandmother who thought she was a cross between the Queen and God and a mother who lived her life as if she ingested industrial doses of Valium on a daily basis. Because what mother would never mention their daughter’s father, never tell her his name, pretend like she was an immaculate conception?
The need to know about her father becomes central to Dot’s understanding of herself; she feels as though she has to know who he is before she moves into adulthood.
Dot’s story is also central to the novel, although it is not the only story told. The narrative voice moves between Dot, Dot’s mother, Alice; Dot’s grandmother, Clarice; Dot’s best friend, Mavis; Mavis’ mum, Sandra; Mavis’ dad, Gerry, and Dot’s dad, Tony. They each tell us the stories they feel they can’t tell each other; the stories that have made them the people they are now, people who feel lonely and isolated by their experiences.
There are plenty of things, countless scenarios in which you could become a shell of a person, eaten up with regret and longing for a life you couldn’t have. And mostly it was your own fault, the place you found yourself was made by your own path, by the way you dealt with shit.
Three things are done really well in the novel: firstly, the voices of the characters are all distinct – not an easy feat in a book with a number of narrators; secondly, the pacing is perfect. Threads are left dangling for one character while another fills in their story, this meant I raced through the book, desperate to fill in another gap/resolve a piece of the family puzzle, and thirdly, the characters are utterly believable. As Hall says in the Q&A at the end of the book, the characters are products of their generations (she says this about the women but it’s true for the men too) and I recognised these people and their behaviour so clearly, I could put my own names to parts of their personalities.
Dot covers the big themes of parenthood and marriage across three generations. It works because Hall has an acute eye for how family members and close friends behave with each other. There were so many aspects of plot and characterisation that I found myself wanting to discuss with someone, I can’t help thinking that this is a perfect book group novel.
Thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy