Monday, September 15, 2014

book review: The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

The backstory: The Dog is on the 2014 Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: The unnamed narrator leaves New York for Dubai to work as the family officer and go-between for the very rich Batros family.

My thoughts: The narrative voice of our mysteriously unnamed narrator grabbed me immediately. He's quirky and weird, and a dark humor inflects the narrative:
"In Switzerland they eat dog sausages, and I cannot say the Swiss are stupid. Cold, yes. Greedy, yes. Stupid, no. But eating tigers for medicine? Very stupid. Maybe this should be our focus, the fight again stupidity. It's a very serious problem. There is a lot of stupidity in the world. It does much harm. You must understand this very well, coming from the United States."
Early on, I quite enjoyed this novel. The narrative voice was fresh, interesting, smart and funny. It brimmed with interesting commentary and observation, both about himself and the world. As he (and thus the novel) moved to Dubai, I was further intrigued not only by the descriptions of life and normalcy in Dubai, but about how the narrator's observations of the city also reflect on his own thoughts and opinions.

About halfway through the novel, however, I found myself wishing for more action. Despite quite enjoying the first half, I thought the descriptive and detailed scene setting would lead to more plot development. I found the presumably intended surprises in the plot to be telegraphed for much of the novel, and the second half of the novel fell somewhat flat for me.

A lot in The Dog reminded me of fellow Booker longlisted (and now shortlisted) novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The young male narrators are similar in many ways, and the way they (and thus O'Neill and Ferris) tell the story is often similar. Both novels had strong writing, an intriguing narrator and set-up, but both ultimately left me wanting more. I'm not surprised, however, that both books would appeal to the same type of reader.

Favorite passage: "Children are natural snitches and squealers and accusers. This is because adults are natural policers, prosecutors, fact finders, judgers, punishers, torturers, hangers, electrocuters, gravediggers, and defamers of the dead."

The verdict: The Dog is at its best when the focus is on Dubai and its quirks and secrets. Unfortunately, Dubai wasn't always the focus of the story, and I found the Batros family business rather dull. I wanted either more plot or more of an emphasis on the Dubai setting.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Dog from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. I'm quite interested in reading The Dog. I've tried and failed at reading O'Neill before, but I'm ready to give it another go.


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