Aug 13, 2011

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff

The premise behind There is No Dog is this: our world was created and is overseen by a nineteen-year-old named Bob, whose occupation of the job of God has less to do with his abilities and more to do with his mother winning the position during one night of drunken poker and then passing it on to him. Bob is not exactly what you’d think of a deity material: He’s lazy, self-centred, irresponsible, and mainly concerned with getting what he wants. And what he wants at the moment is to win the affection of a human girl named Lucy. But as Bob’s long-suffering assistant, Mr B, very well knows, a quick glance at history will show us that Bob’s passions tend to end in disaster. Who knows what will befall our already considerably messy planet this time around?

First of all, I have to confess that I was a tiny little bit wary of the premise of There is No Dog. There are, after all, about a million different ways in which a story starring God as a teenaged boy and offering this as the reason for all that’s wrong with the world could go wrong in the hands of a clumsy author. But! This is Meg Rosoff. She’s one of the entries on my brief “I would walk through embers for your new book” list and I trust her implicitly. So I knew she wouldn’t explore this premise in an obvious, “isn’t-everything-unredeemingly-awful” sort of way – yet There is No Dog still surprised me for being funnier, smarter, and more moving than you’d think it had any right to be.

First of all, you have a cast of intergalactic characters whose personalities, relationships and going-ons reminded me slightly of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (in fact, I’d highly recommend this to fans of Douglas Adams, and also of Kurt Vonnegut). Then you have the humour, which is dark and understated and absolutely pitch-perfect. Then you have satire with real heart: There is No Dog pokes fun at plenty of things, but it never handles any of them clumsily. This is particularly visible in Bob and Lucy’s love affair. I loved the slightly ridiculous but nevertheless intense tone of the whole thing. I loved the physicality of it all, and the acknowledgement that despite all the drama, this kind of desire feels quite overwhelming for those caught up in it. I especially liked that this was as true of Lucy as it is of Bob – rather than being merely an object of desire, she’s a subject. And last but not least, I loved seeing teenage lust portrayed in a way that doesn’t involve a disregard for consent, or the usual casting of the male character as the bearer of uncontrollable lust and the female one as responsible for guarding her chastity.

There is No Dog has no shortage of interesting characters. I loved Lucy, who’s both a beautiful girl and an actual real human being, and who’s well aware of just how often she’s perceived as just a beautiful girl. I loved Mr B, the quietly competent manager who has devoted the millennia to cleaning up after Bob. I loved Estelle, a smart, competent and compassionate goddess who’s determined not to let the worst happen. And I loved Bernard, a vicar doing his best, and who one day, unbeknownst to him, has a conversation with the real God. Again, this is a scene that could easily have gone wrong, but in Meg Rosoff’s hands it became one of the best parts of the book.

The character I loved the most, though, was the Eck. The Eck is the very last member of a species of penguiny creatures with a voracious aptitude and, rumour has it, the most delicious meat in nine galaxies. The last titbit is of course his downfall: the Eck is Bob’s pet, and the same kind of drunken poker that won Bob the job leads Bob’s mother to wager him away to someone intent on trying this delicacy. The Eck’s story is wonderful, absurd, funny, and nevertheless truly moving. He spends most of the book terrified about his impeding doom, and yet still manages to occasionally put his fear aside to make new friends, enjoy his abundant meals, and take real pleasure in his brief life. I don’t know how Meg Rosoff managed to do this without slipping into heavy-handedness, but somehow she did: in a story that deals with what it means to be human, to be mortal, and to live in a world where the worst can and often does happen, the Eck is just like us. No wonder he’s at the very heart of the book.

What I liked the most about There Is No Dog was the fact that it combines an awareness of all that’s wrong with our planet with a refusal to descend into cynicism for cynicism’s sake. For all its darkness, biting satire and strangeness, There Is No Dog is filled with hope. Among the apocalyptic weather there are sunny days. In between the despair there are real moments of beauty. And there are characters who neither despair nor slip into complacency. They simply carry on doing the best they can. Perhaps that’s not enough, but it’s all we’ve got.

They read it too: books i done read, The Diary of a Bookworm, Bookwitch, Reeder Reads, Bella’s Bookshelves, Dreaming of Books

(You?)

20 comments:

  1. My son and I like very different books, but have run across a few through the years that we both like. I have a feeling this is another one we could share.

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  2. oh I like the sound of this Ana ,I would love to read something like hithhikers I ve read the five originals and as you point out this is does sound along the same lines as the Adams thanks for bringing it to my attention ,all the best stu

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  3. This book seems like it would be perfect for my husband, and also for myself, which is good because we are back to sharing audios in the evening, and I have a feeling this one would be a lot of fun. I like the way you describe this one, and am particularly interested in the Eck story. Like a lot of your reviews, this one has totally sold me on the book, and now I need to see if I can find it!

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  4. I want to see the REST of your "I would walk thru embers for your new book" list.

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  5. Still haven't read a Meg Rossoff book, I really should try her. Although I'm sometimes awkward with teenaged characters, they never seem to have anything to do with the way I was :)

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  6. I have to admit that when I read the premise of this story I thought, "You have got to be kidding me!" Seriously, that just doesn't sound like it could possibly be anything but a disaster. But wow. Of course, I trust you implicitly, and all you would have had to say is that it *does* work and I would have been sold. But of course, you went on to explain just how incredibly it works and now I'm absolutely dying to get my hands on this book. Honestly, it sounds wonderful beyond words. Thanks Ana!

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  7. Well, that sounds like as good an explanation as any for what's wrong with the world! :)

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  8. I think I want an Eck XD Sounds adorable..and I want this book!!!

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  9. Like Chris, I can't wait for this one to be published in the US!

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  10. I've seen this one around the blogosphere but I think you may can convinced me. I want my own Eck!

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  11. What a premise! You knwo I hve not heard of this author, but now I am adding her to my list of authors To Be Read very soon.

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  12. What a quirky book! This is one of those that if I'm in the right mood I could probably enjoy a lot. Great review Nymeth. Will have to remember this one.

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  13. I was weary of the premise too until you mentioned his mother won the part of God during one night of drunken poker. LOL! And if you say that the humor continues to be pitch-perfect, then this might just be my cuppa.

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  14. I like the sound of this! I've only read Rosoff's first novel which I LOVED and this looks quite different. Interesting premise though.

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  15. I loved the one book by Meg Rosoff I read (I think it was called Who We Were), but I balked at first after reading the premise of this one. Your review makes it sound worth a look, though. I do tend to like quirkiness. :-)

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  16. This sounds like an extremely interesting premise, and I love the title. I read only one book of hers but this is another I would read. Thanks for the great review!

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  17. Wow. This sounds amazing Ana. Definitely on my wishlist now.

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  18. You had me at "any fan of Douglas Adams." We're listening to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the millionth time as comfort on our long car trip to leave Eleanor at her college this weekend. She took How I Live Now as one of the books she couldn't live without.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.