Sick of the Same Old Narrators Which Seem All the Same? Try a Book Narrated By a Dog Instead!
A Dog’s Purpose, W Bruce Cameron
Books written through the eyes of dogs are nothing new, however A Dog’s Purpose by W Bruce Cameron is probably the best of all of them. The narrator who is the same soul but gets re-incarnated a number of times is very believable to be a dog, as he is always learning and never really understands the human world he is living in, or why he is being asked to do most things. Other authors who have given this a go slip in some human characteristics for their narrators every now and then, just so they can narrate or get the story going, but W Cameron’s narrator comes across as pure dog, the whole time. The narrator is just simply trying to please his various masters, whether they are his mother or other alpha dogs, or his various human masters and perform in whatever job they have outlined that his purpose each time round is. Anyone who has owned a dog will love this and see possible explanations for various dog behaviours or how they view other animals. It is quite sad at times, and the narrator throughout his four lives will come across some abusive or threatening to his welfare and even his life situations, which may be hard for some readers due to just how believable the narrator is. Still they should read this though!
All stories are linked as the narrator retains his memories of his past lives, which does ponder the question of why he didn’t remember a thing of his former life in the first story. The final story is a little bit cheesy, a little predictable, the cheesy moment happens, then the second one and ultimately the most predictable of all cheesiness possibilities happens. I won’t give it away but the ending half of the final story is really the only time where you forget you are not reading through the eyes of a real dog and reminds you that it is a work of fiction you are reading after all. Still the rest of the book is so well done, the masterpiece status remains.
Of course a dog narrator and books told through the eyes of a canine character are nothing new, if you want more dog narration I would highly recommend Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series which starts with Dog on It. Chet and Bernie are partners in a private detective agency, Chet of course is the fury one with four legs.
There are some terrible attempts at pretending to be a dog author such as Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, at no time at all do you ever believe the narrator in that one is a real dog.
None of them beat this masterpiece for believability though. If you haven’t done so, you’ve simply got to read it!
July 2017 Update – Some other good dog written tales I’ve read since this post include The Book of Riley by Mark Tufo. This is actually a series, the first book is called My Name is Riley, although you’ll find the first in Kindle and other e-book formats as the same name as the series. In physical book form under The Book of Riley title, you find My Name is Riley and the first three sequels. You can read My Name is Riley as a standalone adventure as it does wrap up what’s happening but leaves events in a way that the story obviously isn’t over. The story is interesting and fun enough though that you’ll probably eventually check out the rest. There’s four sequels out there so far. City Libraries Gold Coast have the first and two sequels on MP3 Audio books, but that’s probably not the way you want to experience a story told by a dog, especially when the voice actor seems to be male, and the dog female.
Basically this is a zombie apocalypse novel through the eyes of a female American Bulldog. Her pack originally consists of an alpha male and female human, a couple of human cubs including an infant, a Yorkshire Terrier and a cat (who Riley isn’t a big fan of). But then one night some intruders enter the backyard, they are also two legged like the alphas in her pack, but different too. They are also a huge threat to the pack. The pack must flee and we experience everything through Riley’s experiences. I hadn’t read a zombie outbreak through the mind of a dog before, and this was a lot of fun. It’s more like a cartoon dog experience than you believing your actually inside a dog’s head like with A Dog’s Purpose, but it’s a great adventure.
Another zombie tale through the eyes of a dog is simply titled The Dog. It’s written by Amy Cross. Harry and his master Jon are living in a cabin in the woods waiting for another human called Julie to arrive, while the lights of the city on the horizon and noises of nature having seemingly been turned off. Harry has some inconsistencies in what he understands about human tools such as he doesn’t understand what a mobile phone is, but compares the lost of sound and lights like someone flicked a switch. Still it’s a decent enough read that you can forgive that. I thought that this was one of the more realistic what walking corpses would be like at different points of the timeline zombie tales, although we don’t have a large number of zombies at all in this tale.
On the non zombie side of things, a series by Kristen Otte kicks off with The Adventures of Zelda A Pug Tale. It isn’t quite as believable that we’re in a dog’s mind as the other books on this page. Zelda also doesn’t really face any dangers or obstacles, other than the vacuum cleaner, a snowman and things like this we as the human reader know are completely harmless to her. There isn’t any violence, hunger or struggle for the canine character, which might not necessarily be a bad thing for some potential readers, but just makes the book seem more like a kids book compared to other similar books. This is more like someone observing a dog’s (and specifically a pug dog’s unique) quirks, and behaviours that occur mostly in a house and explaining them through the dog’s narration. For example it thinks the vacuum cleaner is a robot and a threat to one of it’s owners. Zelda has a lot more of an understanding of human language, in fact she understands word for word most human conversations, especially ones about her, and she observes things such as the neighbour is raking the yard, which you wouldn’t imagine she’d know the word raking let alone how to use it in a sentence, since she’s never experienced falling leaves before.
I’ve also since this post six years ago read other canine written books by The Dog’s Purpose‘s author W Bruce Cameron. The sequel A Dog’s Journey isn’t anywhere near as good as the original. It does see the return of the ever reincarnating canine narrator for a few more lives, although not as many as the first time. Those lives though he has lot less interesting occupations (dog’s purposes), than the first novel, well none really he’s pretty much just a pet this time round. The main part of the enjoyment factor is just revisiting the old canine friend again that you’d loved following his lives so much in the first book. He’s just a pet for the same woman (Clarity) at different ages during her life, while inside a different type of dog body each time. She’s not that likable an owner or that interesting. And the coincidences need for that to happen adds a fair bit of implausibility to the tale and suggests that everything he does is fate and not a result of the, “good dog” decisions he is making. It just wasn’t as satisfying overall a reading experience.
But I have read another book by Cameron that is just as good as A Dog’s Purpose called A Dog’s Way Home. Bella keeps the same body throughout all the pages of this one, there’s no reincarnation in A Dog’s Way Home. Like with Purpose, life isn’t smooth and carefree for Bella, she has highs and lows. Good and bad human interactions, including owners and learns about life through experience. You’ll despise some of the humans, (Lucas the first human she lives with especially) but feels the joy for Bella with others. Unfortunately the book’s main plot drive is that Bella thinks she needs to do Go Home (return to the house Lucas lived in) from the yard of foster humans four hundred miles away with mountains in between from that house. So even when she’s with these better human owners along the way (and a companion she calls big kitten at one stage) that you know she’ll be much better off with, you know she’s going to try and leave when she gets a chance.