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lip lit: ruby j. murray, running dogs (+giveaway)

Running Dogs is the debut novel by Australian author Ruby J. Murray, and  is about the complex friendship between two women living in Jakarta.

In the present day, it follows Diana, an Australian woman who has taken up a job working for an aid agency. From the beginning, Diana is haunted by the presence of her former friend Petra. Petra often graces the social pages in Indonesia, but Diana has not heard from her since she abruptly left Melbourne six years earlier. When Diana reconnects with Petra, she is suddenly seduced by Petra’s family and world, but there are many secrets and revelations that continue to threaten the family’s already fragile equilibrium.

While we experience the Petra of today though Diana’s wary yet revering eyes, we experience Petra as a child — and Jakarta in the late nineties — through Petra’s own.

Parallel stories concentrating on different characters and different timezones can often seem jarring and disjointed, but Murray handles it skilfully: we see the differences in Jakarta throughout the decades, and we learn more and more about the enigmatic Petra with each page. This imbues the novel with tension and mystery, which keeps the pages practically turning themselves. It also provides the reader with the capacity to experience loss and grief in a way that feels tangible, and while this may be emotionally draining, it ensures the novel stays in our thoughts, long after we have closed the page.

There is a phrase on the fourth page which not only tugged at my heart, but established Murray in my mind as a tremendous writer , ’…[she] was hustled towards a blue taxi by a man with fake leather shoes at least three sizes too big for him.’ Here, Murray masterfully keeps to the cardinal rule of showing instead of telling: we know the man is living in poverty, but is trying to make himself look professional to the Westerners he so badly needs to impress in order to survive.  Murray continues this technique throughout her novel, and also describes things vividly and beautifully, and has many sharp observations. All of these are effective as they really draw the reader in and makes them feel part of the story, as opposed to just hearing it.

One of the reasons why I think Running Dogs resonated with me, and why I think it will resonate with many of Lip‘s readers, is because of the intricate female friendship between Diana and Petra. It’s one of those confusing friendships which runs much deeper than the “frenemy” throwaway. It reminds me of the friendship between Kathy and Ruth in Never Let Me Go: Petra is the friend you love despite her words and actions, because there is a rawness and charisma to her that is rarely found.

Running Dogs is a captivating and beautifully melancholic debut novel, which speaks to the reader about corruption, survival, and the consequences of our past.

Scribe Publications, $29.95

We have one copy of Running Dogs to giveaway. Please email with the name of the Indonesian island Jakarta is located on.

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