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Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody

jones-diana-wynne-dogsbodyIn the introduction to this Firebird edition of Dogsbody, Neil Gaiman writes, 'It's a love story, and Diana Wynne Jones wrote very few love stories ... ' What's amusing to me about this is that all four DWJ novels I've read so far have been love stories. I didn't plan it that way!

In Dogsbody the stars are supernal beings of exalted power call Effulgents, and the novel begins with Sirius, the Dog Star, being consigned to incarnation in, well, a dog's body on Earth as punishment for an unnamed crime. He is further charged with finding a device of power called the Zoi, which has disappeared on Earth. If he can find it, his punishment will be ended.

As usual Jones is working in a lot of different dimensions with this novel. I'm not a dog person, but I have to say that she does an utterly superb job of capturing what the world feels like from the perspective of a dog (albeit a dog with a split nature that has more powers of comprehension than most). Then there's the life of the family he's adopted into, with all the cruelties and complexities common in Jones' novels. Sirius is cared for by Kathleen, an Irish girl whose republican father is in prison and whose mother has fled to America. Kathleen is cared for by an English relative, and she's despised by half the family for being Irish and the daughter of a terrorist. Meanwhile Sirius can not only understand what other animals (including humans, but also cats and foxes) are saying, but he can understand what the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon are saying as well. There's an animistic feel to this world that comes across in choice physical details that are treated as speech. To a dog, the whole world speaks.

It's a coming of age story as we see Sirius grow from a puppy to a nearly adult dog, and as he remembers more about his previous existence as an Effulgent, we learn more about what is at stake in the story. Our sense of what is in danger grows. This gradual expansion of the scope of the story feels effortless, and we are just as fascinated by more mundane matters of where Sirius will find a bite to eat and which chairs are most comfortable to a dog. As usual in DWJ's work there's a large cast of easily distinguished characters, all with their own foibles and urgent needs.

I did think things felt a little rushed at the climax, as a multitude of mysterious things happen in rapid and bewildering succession. Still, I was hooked throughout. The love story, such as it is, is another skewed one -- a DWJ specialty, in my brief experience. You might say it ends in tears, and you know I'm a sucker for romantic melancholy.

(Sorry if this review lacks inspiration, but I'm down with a cold at the moment.)

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
cpt_buggernuts
Mar. 28th, 2013 05:00 pm (UTC)
Just commenting to say I've been really enjoying your posts about DWJ books. She was always a favourite of mine as a child/teen/young adult but I went off of her writing about a decade ago because of Reasons. By pure chance I started reading her again just before you did, and it's just been great to periodically read these reviews by a literate adult coming to her 'fresh'.

(comment garbled and clumsy due to being distracted but hopefully my meaning is discernable).
randy_byers
Mar. 28th, 2013 05:08 pm (UTC)
Much appreciated! Deep Secret is next in the queue. Perhaps this one is not a love story?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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