Dogfellow’s Ghost by Gavin Smith (book review).

‘DogFellow’s Ghost’ is a standalone Science Fiction novel set on a unspecified Atlantic island sometime during the scientific revolution of the 20th century. The only inhabitants of the island are the scientist only referred to as Master and the twenty-eight creatures that he has created. The Master is a disgraced scientist who, in the past, was ridiculed and shamed for his theories and practices and has relocated to the island to conduct his experiments far from judging eyes. The novel itself is narrated by DogFellow, one of the Master’s experiments.

DogFellow was originally a dog whose body the Master had surgically altered to function in a more physically human manner. DogFellow has been altered to be able to walk bipedally and to be able to talk and use his hands as a human. The Master has also painstakingly taught DogFellow to speak, read and write and uses him as a housekeeper/lab assistant. The other twenty-eight creatures have also been altered in this way from their original forms of bears, apes, big cats, pigs and so on. Their intelligence and reasoning skills vary and DogFellow seems to be the most intelligent of them all.

The Master rules over them as their god, master and father. The creations are assigned work and live separately on the island and meet at meal times and once a day to recite the catechism taught to them by the Master. They are to live non-violently and drink and eat as a human and refrain from giving in to their base animal behaviours. Even DogFellow, who is the most diligent in following the rules, must constantly force himself not to act as his nature requires. His only small disobedience is the scraps of newspaper he steals that are wrapped around the supplies the Master gets from the mainland. From these tiny slips of paper he reads and dreams of the alien world outside the island. His first true taste of the outside world comes in the form of the reporter Truman Henderson, who has been invited to the island by the Master to witness and write about his work.

‘DogFellow’s Ghost’ is a sad and unsatisfying book in some ways. Although you can see that the story isn’t going to end well from the start, the fate of the keys characters at the end is left unknown. This I could easily ignore as it is only DogFellow that really I wanted the best for against all reason. His unwavering loyalty and love for his Master, a man that care nothing for him is heartbreaking. He struggles in finding and understanding his place in the world and who he is. The limited information he can gather to formulate ideas himself clashes against his loyalty for his master and his teachings. As depressing and ambiguous as his fate is at the end, it was inevitable.

Supreethi Salvam

February 2017

(pub: Macmillan New Writing. 258 page small hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK), $24.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0330-46099-6)

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