Friday, March 16, 2018

Love on Four Paws

“It began, this journey of many lifetimes, in an ordinary way: he and I went to pick oysters on the shore. He loved them more than any other food, loved the ritual of unlocking abrasive shells to discover a treasured interior, smooth alabaster and incorporeal liquor. And when he feasted on them, they had a transformative effect: his shoulders dropped, his brow unknotted, and his eyes softened, sometimes to tears.”

So begins, too, Damien Dibben’s new novel, Tomorrow. A novel with two prologues, set five years apart, and narrated by a dog. A dog who, as you can see from the above, has a clear vision and an astonishing vocabulary, who has lived for centuries and acquired considerable wisdom and perspective yet remains a hound waiting patiently for his master’s return—for 127 years.

It shouldn’t work, but it does, beautifully. The dog, who until the end we know only by the names his master bestows on him—“my champion,” most often—may grow wiser and develop insight on the oddities of the human species, but he doesn’t cease to be a dog. Odors fascinate him, and he identifies people and other animals by them. He defends his food and space from other dogs. He helps those of his own kind abandoned by their human companions, whether through death or departure, involuntary or—in the case of the delightful Sporco, another dog who insists on joining the narrator’s pack—deliberate. He loves his absent master unconditionally. He delights in and then grieves the loss of Blaise, the female dog who, not being immortal as he is, can spend only a short number of years as his companion. It never occurs to him, until his master briefly returns only to vanish once more, to leave his post. He is loyal and true, like the best canine companions. More than anything else, he is unwavering.

And as you can see from the opening, the writing is gorgeous. Dibben, the author of the YA series The History Keepers, excels in this haunting novel. A pair of alchemists, linked in ways that become clear only near the end, enter into conflict over the refusal of one to save the love of the other by conferring immortality on the lover as well as his own dog. The antagonist, shocked at this refusal, vows to exact a price. The dog senses the danger, but he can’t understand the tortured logic that drives his master’s foe. And when the antagonist’s revenge plays out, the dog, like all dogs, realizes only slowly what has happened. As he progresses from Elsinore in 1602 to the battlefield of Waterloo more than two centuries later, he offers a distinctive perspective on our early modern past—and our present.

I wish I could fit this author into my podcast schedule, but the book releases next week, and I have three interviews in line to close the gap inadvertently opened from mid-January to now for a variety of reasons ranging from stage fright (not mine) to the nor’easter that blew out my power and Internet connection for four days straight. So for the moment, this blog post is the best I can do. But I see that Dibben has another adult novel in the works called The Colorist, set in Renaissance Venice and exploring the vast lengths to which painters would go to secure new shades. So I hope to have another chance for an interview when that book comes out. And if I do, you can bet I’ll also be asking him about Tomorrow.

Because who can resist an immortal dog?

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