Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Bollocks

Every now and then I read a book and it reaffirms the possibilities. The things that you can do with the novel format, the kind of risks you can take. I only come across about one a year. And I need them. Without them, these little reminders of why I'm doing this at all, I might as well give up. There have been many of these books over the years. First of all they got me into reading, then they showed me that I could never be a writer, then they showed me that I could be a writer, then they showed me how I could carry on being a writer. Some are big, famous books. Some are unassuming and seemingly of little consequence. As long as they hit me somewhere, or make my eyes widen a bit, it doesn't matter.

Matt Haig's THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND did both.

It's hard to say why this novel works. It's easy to say why it shouldn't work. The narrator is a dog, for fuck's sake. A black Labrador. Like all good Labradors he is an adherent of the "Labrador Pact", a treaty which places duty and the (human) family above all else, while other breeds (led by those irresponsible Springer spaniels) have abandoned themselves to the anarchic pursuit of pleasure. This is a great idea. Dogs are bloody everywhere, for God's sake. Why hasn't anyone thought of transposing a political ideology onto them before? OK, maybe they have. But it's the other stuff that elevates this book. It's the creeping agony of watching a family disintegrate from within, and taking it all from the loyal Lab's anxious POV.

Ah, shit, there's so much to recommend about this book. Can I use the term dog noir? If so, this is dog noir. It's a lot else besides that, but if you look at the bare requirements of noir this has them all. And a talking squirrel. Despite all this, the book does not come across the slightest bit whacky. A little over over-cute at times, but you forgive that. You're a Labrador, and you have to forgive every human failing. No, THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND (first published in 2004 - I'm always late with these things) is not whacky. I probably come across as whacky in the way I'm talking about it, but it ain't.

Outrageously inventive, yes.

By the way, this book came to me via an unsual (and probably unprecedented) route. My mum gave it to my wife, raving about it. My wife raved about it and gave it to me. At this point, I usually get suspicious and steer clear, but for some reason I gave in. And now here I am, raving about it and giving it to you.

3 comments:

John R. said...

Egads! First we have you extolling the virtues of a book narrated by a dog, then we'll get Banks saying he's writing cat mysteries, and then the Apocalypse will surely be upon us! These are the End Times!!


Actually, I say that, but I enjoyed Penn Jillette's Sock, written from the POV of a sock monkey, so I shouldn't really be making jokes.

Ray said...

John, I already mentioned that I'm taking over from Braun on the Cat Who books. The ink's not dry on the contract yet, but I do have outlines for THE CAT WHO KILLED A HOOKER IN VEGAS and THE CAT WHO HAD AMPHETAMINE PSYCHOSIS.

Charlie Williams said...

Well done on the deal, Ray. How about THE CAT WHO COUGHED UP A SPEED BALL?