There are a great many, and many great, books about heroic deeds in the mountains. Tales of near-death escapes and nerve-wrecking rescues, as people battle the odds and the weather to survive. Or books about those remarkable types with the drive and the bravery to achieve the unthinkable, who push the limits of what humans can achieve. These stories are inspiring and enthralling, and understandably dominate the mountain literature genre. 
But there are many people who visit or live in the mountains – the majority of people found there, in fact – whose deeds there are not remarkable, record-breaking or rarefied. And, if told well, their stories are also worth reading.
Especially when those individuals are as curiously repellent as Adelmo Farandola, the reluctant protagonist of Snow, Dog, Foot, a short novel by Claudio Morandini. Adelmo Farandola (his name is written in full throughout) lives a reclusive existence high up in an Alpine valley in Italy. He only interacts with other humans when he absolutely has to. There are grunted conversations with the woman in whose shop he buys essential supplies, and hostile ones with a ranger who disturbs his peace. But no one else. Few people enter the place where he has chosen to live his life – which is exactly how he likes it.
And few would want to meet him, for this is a character who is not easy to love. He has long since given himself to nature, and so has little need to maintain the rituals of hygiene that most of us observe. In one passage, you can almost smell him wafting off the pages, as the author describes the numerous ways in which this hermit of a man is decaying physically. In terms of his all-round repugnance, Adelmo Farandola is one of the most evocative creations since Lester Ballard in Child Of God by Cormac McCarthy, or Steven Rutter in Benjamin Myers’ Turning Blue.
Yet Adelmo Farandola isn’t even the most interesting character in this book. The star turn falls to the nameless, talking dog of the novel’s title, who first follows our anti-hero around, and is then reluctantly allowed to stay, despite the risks involved; Adelmo Farandola first threatens to eat his companion within only a few pages of meeting him. 
Their unlikely companionship grows over a harsh mountain winter (the ‘snow’ of the title) and it is clear that Adelmo Farandola is far more at ease with animals that humans. Yet his connection to the valley he calls home – a beautiful yet hostile environment – also comes to light through the book. He talks not just to his adopted canine, but also to the environment in which he has grown up. He taunts it, challenges it, and answers its unspoken questions. 
Snow, Dog, Foot is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and uplifting. Credit here is due not just to the author, but also J Ockenden, who translated it from Italian to English. Capturing the dry wit of a talking dog cannot have been an easy task, yet it is achieved here without a beat missed. And in doing so, both author and translator have added to the canon of mountain literature a character who is far from heroic, or even dramatic – but who survives in the landscape simply because it is all he knows how to do. And alongside him, they have created one of the funniest dogs to appear on the printed page.

(Tim Woods, Little Peak Press)

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