Dogsbody by Diana Wynne JonesGreenwillow (HarperCollins), 2001 (Originally Macmillan London, 1975)

What if the stars weren’t just distant balls of gas: what if each one had, or might have, a “denizen,” a being who inhabited its sphere? What if these denizens had their own lives, their own politics, courts, and jealousies? That’s part of the premise of this novel, which the flap-copy describes, sort of cheesily but also accurately, as a book that is “a tense, exciting, science-fiction fantasy, a thriller, and a touching dog story all in one.” Sirius, the dog star, has been found guilty of murder, though he’s sworn his innocence, and he fears he’s going to be sentenced to death. But instead, he’s given a very unusual sentence, one he hadn’t realized was possible: he’s banished to Earth, where he’s born as a puppy, and he’s tasked with finding the Zoi, the murder weapon he’s accused of having used, which seems to have landed there. On Earth, his dog-nature and his celestial-being nature coexist in a dog’s body, so he’s a regular dog with regular doggy personality traits and desires, but he’s also Sirius, dimly aware of his past as a flaming star, able to talk to the sun and the earth, and aware that he’s supposed to find something that’s lost. He ends up being found and taken home by an Irish girl named Kathleen who’s been packed off to live with English relatives because her dad’s in jail for being a terrorist (this is the 1970s). Kathleen’s life is none too happy, and Sirius isn’t exactly welcomed into the household either, but he’s clever and loyal and manages to navigate life on earth quite well.

I love how precise and funny and tender a writer Diana Wynne Jones is. At the start of the book, when Sirius is ranting in court about how he’s not guilty, he’s not just ranting, he’s fulminating (from fulmen, lightning). Polaris, because he is a Cepheid (yes, I had to look that up) has a stutter. And I love how she imagines her way into a puppy’s viewpoint and then a dog’s: just after he’s born, Sirius sleeps with the other puppies in his litter, “wedged warmly among the other creatures, against a great hairy cliff” (p 6). When he sees a trio of cats for the first time, we get this: “He woke up, stretching his back pair of legs and his front hard and straight, to find there were hostile, alien things nearby. These creatures did not speak. They had no language exactly. But they felt things so firmly and acutely that Sirius knew what they meant just as if they had spoken” (p 15). Also excellent: Sirius’s friendships with old folks, Sirius’s ultimate friendship with the cats, and Sirius’s discovery of ice cream. (Regarding the last: “A very small boy reached toward him with a fistful of cold, sweet, white stuff. Sirius ate it all. And that was that. Having discovered ice cream, Sirius could think of nothing else for a while” (p 124).”)

Diana Wynne Jones Week

I was excited to read Jenny’s post announcing that she was going to host a Diana Wynne Jones week in August. I loved Charmed Life as a kid, and more recently I’ve enjoyed re-reading Charmed Life and reading The Lives of Christopher Chant and Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time. But my book list tells me I read those books in 2008 and 2005, meaning I hadn’t read a book by Diana Wynne Jones in way too long. Megan told me ages ago that I’d like Dogsbody, so now seemed like the time to read it, and I wasn’t disappointed. I like how all the different plot threads/areas fit together, science fiction and myth and ordinary life; I like how this book is fast-paced and exciting but also well-written, and written with care. (It was one of those books I stayed up late to finish; it was also one of those books where I sometimes had to remind myself to slow down, so as not to miss the pleasing details.) Next up: Fire and Hemlock!






5 responses to “Dogsbody by Diana Wynne JonesGreenwillow (HarperCollins), 2001 (Originally Macmillan London, 1975)”

  1. Jenny Avatar

    Diana Wynne Jones does write very well about being a dog–she’s brilliant at presenting humans and our world from an outsider’s perspective.

    Yay, Fire and Hemlock! My very very favorite one!

  2. […] of Letters and Sodas read Dogsbody, and was impressed by Diana Wynne Jones’s clever star jokes. I definitely did not get the one […]

  3. Karenlibrarian Avatar

    Dogsbody was my very first DWJ, read back in middle school. It’s still just as wonderful today, and I was really excited when my daughter loved it too.

  4. Trapunto Avatar

    I think some of Jones’ best characterizations are in this book. It’s in my “top 5” of hers at least. I don’t think there’s ever been an unter-villain so repellent as the hairy-legged potter. Brr.

    Lovely review.

  5. Christy Avatar

    I like the concept of this book and the excerpts that you chose, especially about the cats. Perhaps this will be the second DWJ book that I read.

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