The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

A review of the satirical literary novel The Dog by Joseph O’Neill.

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Once I read reviews praising The Dog by Joseph O’Neill as a post-financial-crash satire set in the heart of Dubai, I knew I simply had to read it. I expected it to be a timely take on super-rich excess with comical flourish, albeit containing a decidedly bitter twist. It turns out I was only correct about the bitter aftertaste, sadly, with The Dog only possessing mild dollops of humour and timeliness throughout—nowhere near enough to cleanse your palette enough to enjoy it.

O’Neill’s novel follows a lawyer escaping a marital breakdown by moving to the capital of Qatar to work for an upper-class family. His character is deeply unlikeable—possibly O’Neill’s intention, I’ll admit—but stylistically The Dog fails to latch the reader onto this ‘anti-hero’ enough to find anything compelling to keep you reading. If nothing else, it’s just positively dull and yawn-inducing; it’s the sort of book you could expect to drop on your face at bedtime.

Largely, the problem is due to the writing style O’Neill has adopted here. I recognise his main character and many of those he interacts with are lawyers, corporate high-flyers, and bankers, but there’s simply way too much techno-babble and pretentious waffle on display. It’s almost like it’s been written in legalese—a literary avalanche of parenthetical piffle and long sentences, about as dull as reading terms and conditions from start to finish.

I’d say the biggest problem with The Dog is it suffers from the usual perils of postmodern literature. It’s hyper-smart, cripplingly intellectual and oh-so-knowing to a fault; trying to offer an exposé into the elite; inferring a critique of power institutions; but ultimately falling flat because of how boring and vacuous its general lack of purpose is. Everything seems to be pointless, which kind of defeats the very point of what satire should be about. In conclusion, The Dog tries to be very clever but ultimately forgets to tell a good story.

Admittedly, some of the observations of life in Dubai and the odd phrase do bring a smile to your face, but when it’s lost in an inner monologue of the central character’s verbal diarrhoea it grows rather tiring. Call me old-fashioned, but insofar as the satirical targets here are worthy, I’d like to think readers want stories to be a tad more accessible. Perhaps The Dog should be re-named ‘Runt of the Litter’ and consigned to the kennels.

Humorous fiction writer, poet and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.

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