There Is No Dog
Meet Bob. Teenage, male, over-sexed and under-appreciated (well, if you ask him), often troublesome, perennially petulant and... oh yes, God. Certainly, the fact that Bob is behind creation explains an awful lot about the state of the planet, never mind the sorry lives of those who live upon it. After a rather hurried spurt of creation several millenia ago, Bob has rather lost interest in earth. In fact, he finds it all rather boring. Particularly the prayers – all that moaning. In fact, the only thing that really keeps Bob going is the fact that he managed to create quite a lot of gorgeous girls and he's just spotted the most beautiful girl of all. Enter the lovely Lucy, who has no idea what is headed her way. Unfortunately for the rest of mankind, Bob long ago tied Earth's weather system to his emotions so with love (well, sex) in his sights there is literally a storm brewing. Watching over Bob is his assistant, the long suffering Mr. B, his erratic mother (who won earth for Bob in a poker game), calm, cool and collected Estelle and a curious creature named Eck – doomed to die (having been lost in yet another poker game) and dreadfully upset about the whole thing.
Bob really is the most horrid of characters. Gob-smackingly selfish in the way that only certain teenagers can truly manage, he's really quite, quite vile. His lack of interest in his creation is absolute. Not only that, but he's pretty pissed off that Mr. B seems more concerned with mankind's plight than with Bob's lovelorn existence. It's all about them and never about him which he considers to be exceptionally unfair. Many characters, no matter how unlikeable, are redeemed by love – their passion shining light upon hitherto unseen realms of care and hope. Not Bob, his passion merely makes him more selfish and, much like his 6-day creation spree, his pursuance of Lucy shows a distinct lack of forethought. Towards the end of the book, it is possible to feel the odd twinge of sympathy – he is terribly lonely, and he has been that way forever but each twinge is tempered by his inward-looking self pity and one can't help but think he's really brought it all on himself. And everyone else.
Conversely, Mr. B cares for Earth very much indeed. Every day, he sits at his desk and shifts through file upon file of prayers debating action. Mentally (he's just about giving up vocalising anything to Bob) he wonders just what God was thinking when he got to work on Earth. Having watched Bob's creation with confusion, worry and occasionally wonder (Bob does have his moments, after all) he himself created the whales, whom he now worries about desperately as their soulful voices lift in prayer. He's a truly brilliant character, kind yet cutting, beleaguered yet not uncaring – really, it's completely believable that he's been able to stomach God for an eternity without killing him... not something you'd necessarily think possible having met Bob. Also, to my mind, he's clearly Bill Nighy.
The women of the story are all very different. God's mother, the gambling Mona, is at once entirely irresponsible, vaguely useless but also loving, albeit in her own peculiar way. Estelle is powerful, clever and the kind of character one might actually give a planet to – her concern over Eck's plight is both lovely and imbued with hope. Eck, for the record is entirely adorable (and stuck firmly in my head has Gorey's Doubtful Guest).
Then there is Lucy. Lucy is every bit as lovely as Bob imagines her to be (I say imagine because he doesn't actually spend very much time listening to what she's got to say). She's at that striking age where young women are at their most beautiful and least aware of it. She's also a happy character, if a little naive and completely unprepared for seduction by heavenly being (which makes a change from the protagonists of a zillion of those angel books).
With her simple premise ( simple, yes, but also genius) and these compelling characters, Rosoff has, once again pulled another brilliantly original rabbit out of her literary hat. While There Is No Dog is often extremely funny (a must for fans of the Pratchett/Gaiman collaboration, Good Omens) it also has true pathos and invites thought on creation, Earth, mankind and the nature of both God and faith. One imagines that, if there is a God, he might often look at his creation in slight desperation – let's just hope he's not actually a teenager because then we are all well and truly screwed. As with her previous work, Meg Rosoff's writing is beautiful and her storytelling skill nigh on unmatched. While There Is No Dog is perhaps closer in style to Just In Case rather than, say, How I Live Now there are moments of not only levity but also of dark despair, utter beauty and true magic. It has been a long time since a book captured my imagination as this one has and I highly recommend it – buy the hardback, it's gorgeous and will look even prettier on your favourites shelf, which is exactly where it will end up.
There Is No Dog is published on 1st September. Thank you to Penguin for providing me with a copy of this title to review.
For UK based bloggers, There Is No Dog will also soon be on tour at UKBT