Dogfellow’s Ghost (book, 2009, Gavin Smith)


I really enjoyed this book. Well worth reading. From Death Ray 16.

FOUR STARS

Author: Gavin Smith

Poignant reworking of The Island of Doctor Moreau, as seen through the eyes of a dog-man.

The scars life inflicts upon the spirit are laid bare with surgical precision in Dogfellow’s Ghost. Set on an island populated by malformed animal men, the book follows the unfortunate adventures of the eponymous creature, both before and after the death of his Moreau-like creator. Dogfellow’s elevation to humanity by vivisection has only partially succeeded, leaving him as neither man nor dog, and as a result perhaps something less than either. Like the dog, he is utterly beholden to his Master, feeling nothing but love and loyalty no matter what manlike-impulses toward freedom he has had grafted onto his personality, and no matter how poorly he is treated.

Though Dogfellow’s Ghost has been described as a coda to The Island of Doctor Moreau, it does not follow the story of H.G. Wells’ novel, though it borrows heavily. It is instead an echo of Wells’ work, certain events from Wells’ book are transposed and reworked, making a story that is the same in spirit and yet something utterly different, like brothers. Wells’ original theme of the uncertain status of humanity and his warning against blind science are augmented by explorations of selfhood, belonging, religion, parenthood, the status of domestic animals in our society and dependent relationships.

It’s an emotionally layered read as a result. Ultimately Dogfellow is a deeply sad creation, but his failings are no fault of his own, his Master is the worst of all fathers, raising up animals to the status of men, and then treating them more badly than any sane being would treat either.

It is hard to see what the market for Dogfellow’s Ghost is, it’s a very literary form of SF, being reminiscent in tone of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (It is self-consciously beautiful; although on occasion one’s purple prose alarms are tripped, it generally stays on the right side of poetic, its rich language a subtle counterpoint to Dogfellow’s simplistic understanding of the world), though it does bear some similarity to the work of Adam Roberts. It’s status as a not-sequel to The Island of Doctor Moreau will confuse some. However, seek it out. Only the flintiest of hearts will remain unmoved by Dogfellow’s Ghost. At the very least, if you have pets, you will certainly pay them more kindness after reading this book.

Did you know?

Gavin Smith has DogFellow able to see in a full spectrum of colour, though dogs can only perceive limited hues.

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