Friday, August 15, 2014

Reading Notes: The Dog

This review is number 4 in my Man Booker Longlist challenge. You can see links to the other three reviews at the bottom of this post.

The Dog is in many ways quite an unusual novel, in that attempts that not inconsiderable feat of deploying an entire book as the internal monologue of a not very likeable lawyer who thinks and talks like ... a not a very likeable lawyer. Before reading it, I would've struggled to believe that any author, no matter how skilled, could make this kind of language interesting, accessible and enjoyable. It's to O'Neill's credit that he manages to make somewhat of a virtue of the careful, laboured and lengthy sentence structure, the legal terminology, and the self-protective outlook of X, the miserable protagonist.

With that said, this tale of a lawyer who flees New York after a nasty break-up with a long-term girlfriend, in order to take up a post as the Family Officer of a fabulously wealthy Lebanese family based in Dubai, is not completely successful.

There are some definite virtues of the book, though. It's a sharp and insightful glimpse into expatriate life in the Gulf States, and the culture of consumption that underlies it. X's post facto analysis of the inherent misery of his 9-year relationship with Jenn, and its terrible conclusion, is well-realised and feels authentic. X's many mental notes to his mercurial and arrogant employers, especially the unpleasant Sandro Batros, are excellently done. Perhaps I found them so because I TOO have composed many a mental slapdown to persons whose behaviours have given me grief. It is an honorable art, and greatly relieves the feelings :-)

However, all that said, I maintain that internal monologue texts with single narrator-protagonists are playing a difficult hand, and The Dog demonstrates very well the pitfalls of the device. By giving us a narrative entirely constructed around the subjectivity of X, O'Neill is taking the risk that X is engaging enough to hold us, and to me, at least, he just isn't. I didn't care about X or what happened to him (I did predict it, pretty nearly, but I just didn't care). Some of the philosophical points that I think O'Neill was trying to make were just lost on me because of this lack of an emotional set point to hang my hat on.

And the ending - what a bummer of an ending. Not bad, exactly, but bleak as any ending I've read on this Booker list or in any book for a goodly while. Again, this isn't inconsistent, but it certainly didn't help me feel that the book would be worth a second look.

I would be surprised to see this one shortlist (although we all know I've been hilariously wrong before...)

Other Man Booker longlist reviews:
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
The Wake
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

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