Hmm. I’ve loved Diego Marani’s other books, but this one failed to engage me much.
God’s Dog is meant to be an absurdist tale that pokes fun at the excesses of the papacy, but I found it more ridiculous than absurdist and the satire seemed more nasty than amusing. I think (now that I’ve read a couple of other reviews) that this may have been because I don’t read thrillers and I’ve been ignoring religion (and Vatican politics in particular) for a long time so I failed to recognise the tropes that Marani is mocking.
Anyway, the basic premise is that Italy has become a theocracy, governed by a pope given to making daft proclamations by which all must live. Ratzinger is mentioned often, but since I take no notice of who’s who in the Vatican, I couldn’t remember whether he was the new one or the dead one, and moreover, I couldn’t be bothered looking it up on the net to find out.
In this new Italy, there is, of course, no abortion, but the biggest threat to the church’s rule comes from euthanasia advocates, who (unsurprisingly) are doing a roaring trade because the Church decrees that suffering is necessary and part of God’s plan, and so people with awful diseases are dying long, slow, and painful deaths.
So the Church has a bunch of secret agents whose job it is to behave in a very unChristian way: to rid the world of the advocates of euthanasia (who nevertheless seem to be able to spirit themselves into hospitals to help out those wishing to end it all whether they risk their souls or not). Domingo Salazar is one of of these secret agents, and he’s after Ivan Zivago who’s plotting to sabotage the canonisation of the late Pope.
All of this is silly enough, but the introduction of a Swahili-speaking chimpanzee called Django was a bridge too far. (He’s supposed to represent a threat, apparently, to the specialness of the human soul.) I read to the end of the book but my heart wasn’t in it. Italy may once have been the home of Machiavelli, but the pseudo-Machiavellian shenanigans in this would-be thriller seemed amateur. I cannot imagine Italy suffering the constraints imposed by Marani’s imagined world: heavens, Italians won’t even wear motorcycle helmets for their own good, and they are far too fond of la dolce vita to put up with a dour church telling them what to do!
I never did work out Marani’s purpose. Was he having a go at the Catholic church, all religions, or (pardon the pun) taking a veiled swipe at Islam and what might happen under one of their theocracies?
Maybe I missed the point altogether. Never mind, it hasn’t altered my opinion that Marani is a terrific author, and I still recommend you read his other titles that I’ve reviewed, New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostayachs. And the humour might appeal to a different sort of reader – do comment below if you enjoyed it, please.
Kerryn Goldsworthy at Readings loved it! Describing it as ‘Catholic Noir’, she says:
God’s Dog is a rare kind of literary detective novel: thrilling, hard-boiled and action-packed, with beautiful imagery and compelling insights into religion, science and philosophy. It’s also a uniquely Italian take on the dystopian genre, a relief after the flood from the Anglosphere.
Daniella Mattiuzzo at Arts Hub admired it too, concluding that Marani’s novel is as disturbing and absurd as it is funny and touching. An enlightening read.
So don’t take any notice of me!
PS Text cover art supremo W H Chong did the artwork for the Australian edition, but, just this once, I actually prefer the UK edition’s very apt design.
Author: Diego Marani
Title: God’s Dog
Translated by Judith Landry
Publisher: Text Publishing 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing.