The Dog is a novel in which there is a single narrator, an ex-pat American living in Dubai, servicing the empire of the Batros family as a account manager. His responsibilities seem to be very vague, he has an office, a car and an apartment, very occasionally he meets his superiors, and generally gets nothing from them in the way of instruction, except for a short while he is lumbered with the son of Sandros Batros, as an intern. There is nothing for either of them to do, so he gives him Sudoku books to fill in.
In America, he was an attorney. He had a partner, a small one-roomed apartment and was dissatisfied, the relationship in bits, in 2007 he suddenly gets offered a fabulous change…but Dubai turns out to be a soulless as everywhere else, the trouble with going abroad to live and work, seems to be that you have to go with yourself. Joseph O’Neill has made a surreal comedy out of this sad loser, a man with few friends and an empty life, the view from his apartment marred by the lack of the iconic building which was intended to round out the whole development, he sits in his massage chair dwelling on the paucity of his life, his sole outlet for entertainment being the internet or a chain of Eastern European prostitutes who hang out on one of the hotels.
This is not an edifying read, Dubai sounds as empty of purpose as our narrator. Clearly the comedic effects were lost on me. Publishers’ Weekly describe it as “Clever, witty and profoundly insightful, this is a beautifully crafted narrative about a man undone by a soulless society”. Well, they might think that I cannot possibly comment.
The second book of the week, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, is equally soul-destroying. At least this narrator has a name – Paul O’Rourke is a New York dentist, he has a propensity for falling in love with an idée-fixe, generally around the girlfriend of the moment, so when it is a Santacroce, Paul becomes obsessed with the family and with Roman Catholicism, when married to Connie Plotz, it is Judaism, with the ubiquity of Jewish family life…his marriage to Connie fails but she still works for him in his dental practice, along with Betsy and Mrs Conway. Then a strange thing happens, a website appears, followed by a Facebook and Twitter account and each one is filled, seemingly unstoppably, with psycho-babble and quasi-religious spoutings from an obscure ancient religion. Terrifyingly though, the on-line version of Paul seems to be a lot nicer than the real person…
Joshua Ferris has hit upon one of our modern life dilemmas: the fixation with virtual reality, our “me-machines” without which our lives become impossible and empty, Paul O’Rourke is also transfixed by the thought that all things die, to the extent that he cannot bear to have a pet or indeed a child, the pet because it will inevitably die before him and the child because it will show him his ageing self, careering towards his demise.
This too, was a novel whose excellence past me by. It is not that I lack a sense of humour, David Lodge makes me laugh out loud, but I lack this sense of humour