Friday, February 19, 2010



The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008, 562 pp

I put off reading this book, which came out in paperback in January, because I was suspicious of all the hype, then Oprah picked it and the one person I knew who read it did not like it one bit. All I can say now is that I missed a great read.

Edgar Sawtelle was born dumb, in the sense of unable to speak. He could hear just fine and was highly intelligent. His parents treasured him, as they had lost several babies due to miscarriage and still birth before he finally arrived. They bred dogs in rural Wisconsin, carrying on a dream of Edgar's grandfather to produce a special kind of dog: one that could take obedience and loyalty to a new level and become bonded to its owner in an almost spiritual way. By page 100, I knew this would be a rich and satisfying story.

Much has been made about the author's admission that the story is a rewriting of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." About the only good it did me to know that was to understand that I was reading a tragedy. I have failed to complete reading "Hamlet" or even get through a movie version. I understand that my credibility as a reader is severely compromised when I say that I do not enjoy Shakespeare, but there it is.

What I loved in this book was the writing, the exploration of the inner life of dogs, and especially the characters. I doubt that I will ever forget Edgar. The mysteriousness of this story held me fascinated for all those pages. The novel is an example of what I have always loved about long books. I used to go to the library and pick novels off the shelf based solely on how fat they were.

All of the fine topics of fiction are present: love, growing up, good versus evil, the loneliness of life and how to find and follow a purpose. Happiness is fleeting, as it is in life. Yet the storytelling is so stellar that I hardly noticed the pages going by and, as is usual in any really good long novel, I did not want it to end.

(The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is available in paperback at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 


  1. You are a brave woman - to admit not finishing Hamlet! Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is magnificent (though I am a big fan of both Hamlet & Branagh, so I'm hardly objective). I saw it in the theater w/my teenage son, who also enjoyed it, and arm-twisted my best friend into buying me the DVD.

    (adding this book to my reading list...)

  2. Brave or foolish. Time will tell.

  3. I loved the book, but hated the ending for reasons I will discuss at the book club. I agree, the writing and the story are great. I love Shakespeare but, I don't think your credibitility as a reader is in any way diminished by the fact you don't like him.

    This will be a book I remeber for a long time. Thanks to Manny for recommending it.

  4. Thanks Lisa. I look forward to the discussion as well. I know what you mean about it being a book you will remember for a long time. It stays in my mind clearly as though I just finished it. That is the sign of a great storyteller, I think.

  5. I was hesitant to read 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' myself as I have had hit or miss experiences with Oprah Book Club selections.... Usually, I love or dislike the books once I have finished reading her book club picks.

    I ended up purchasing the unabridged audio version of 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' on compact disc for a $1 at a FOL Used Bookstore sale a few years ago. I definitely thought 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle' was a unique read... I didn't pick up on the Hamlet references during my experiences of 'The Story of Edgar Sawtelle'.... My favorite character was Almondine, followed closely by Gar Sawtelle and Claude was my least favorite character.

    I enjoyed reading about the Sawtelle dogs.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a book I loved! In addition to everything else it sure had characters you either loved or disliked, I agree.

  6. Thanks for visiting my review about this story and your coment.

    I really dislike reading plays but I have read a few by Shakespeare, Hamlet being one of them and I did like the story.

    As I mentioned on my post, if you read both stories, you would easily find the connection and the characters. The dogs are: Ophelia is Almondine, Tinder and Baboo are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Essay is Horatio), the humans: Trudy is Gertrude, Claude is Claudius, Edgar and his father "Gar" share the same name, as does Hamlet. Dr. Papineau is Polonius, Laertes is Glen. I liked to compare the two stories.

    Anyway, I am glad you liked this book and maybe you will try another Oprah book once in a while, she does have a good taste in novels.

    Happy Reading,
    Marianne from
    Let's Read

    1. Thank you Marianne for delineating the characters. If I had read this book more recently I would have read Hamlet first. I am not so averse to Shakespeare's plays as I used to be. And I have since read plenty of great novels recommended by Oprah. I admire her very much for many reasons.