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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

God's Dog

Diego Marani

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To purchase God's Dog

Title: God's Dog
Author: Diego Marani
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 146 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: God's Dog - US
God's Dog - UK
God's Dog - Canada
God's Dog - India
Il cane di Dio - Italia
  • Italian title: Il cane di Dio
  • Translated by Judith Landry

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Our Assessment:

B : dark and bitter not-quite-satire, with some decent thriller elements

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 20/5/2014 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent . 3/1/2014 Barry Forshaw
TLS . 4/7/2014 Bharat Tandon

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he point about God's Dog is that it's not counterfactual, it is something that could still happen. Depressingly, the book has not done as well in Italy as Marani's others, and has had the odd stiff review from the more religiously inclined press." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Perhaps readers in theocratic Middle Eastern countries (in the unlikely event that they are to pick up a novel such as this) might see Salazar as necessarily rigorous in carrying out God's work, but for most Western readers, he will be a tough pill to swallow. Which is what makes the success of this energetic and trenchant novel all the more impressive, however reptilian its protagonist." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "Combining elements of the hard-boiled detective story with anticlerical satire and counterfactual dystopia, Maraniís novel imagines with disturbing plausibility the public set-pieces and daily minutiae of a future totalitarian papal state, even if the overall result doesnít have quite the mind-altering brio of his earlier fiction." - Bharat Tandon, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The central character in God's Dog is Domingo Salazar, a: "Haitian orphan who had become an officer in the papal guard". The book is set in the near-future -- Salazar was picked out of the rubble of the Haitian orphanage in 2010 -- and the world in which he now works as a secret agent for the papal police is somewhat different than the contemporary one. Specifically, the Catholic Church has reasserted itself and rules with an iron and ideologically very pure hand over Italy -- now a Catholic Republic every bit as militant about its faith as Saudi Arabia and the like. Salazar has been stationed in Amsterdam, but he is called back to Italy on a secret mission -- just a short time before a grand ceremony is to be held, the canonization of Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). It is Ratzinger who, in this telling, made dogma top dog again and caused the shift in Church policy, leading to its new-found political dominance; his real-life abdication of the papacy unfortunately came only after the publication of Marani's book, the harsh criticism of the dogmatic leader thus suddenly feeling a bit off-target.
       Salazar is a domini canis, "a hound of God" -- willing to do what it takes in defense of the true faith. In Marani's version, the Church has taken a bit of a turn, and the true faith is a lot less charitable than the contemporary familiar one. Major targets include abortionists and euthanasists, as life and suffering are considered central to the faith -- except that Marani's harsh critique goes far beyond satire in making the punishment for practitioners and advocates of either the death penalty.
       This is a big, big leap: unlike many American religious zealots, who illogically have no problem reconciling an anti-abortion and a pro-death penalty stance, the Catholic Church has long stood very firm on life being something that is not to be taken under any circumstances; Marani suggests a position so corrupted that there has been a fundamental shift here, ideologically purity now seen much more narrowly, with these perverted results. While Marani limits his examination of the inner workings of the Church he also suggests a completely corrupted institution which has no problem with double-standards, where: "seminary girls are the whores who serve the curia" -- who, in turn, "don't like doing it with a contraceptive", which in turn necessitates their frequent calling upon the services of ... abortionists.
       Salazar is assigned to uncover a euthanasists-group and to find an abortionist. He's good at his job, and dedicated; he's also: "a hooligan at heart". And he also has a bit of personal history that complicates and possibly compromises his position within the Church.
       The cat-and-mouse game makes for a decent thriller, and from the relatively simple beginnings -- keeping watch in a hospital -- the plot also expands nicely into something rather bigger and more complex. If the novel falls somewhat short it's in Marani's critical ambitions: while choosing not to go the satire-route (and there's truly very little that's funny here), he nevertheless presents much that is so dark and bitter and ugly that it can be hard to swallow. The Church-critique is fairly specific (Ratzinger, in particular, is personally seen and blamed as the man behind much that has gone wrong, the Church losing its way and regressing to Inquisition-times-like attitudes), yet Marani seems also to be reaching beyond it -- indeed, it's hard not to see the novel in part as a critique of the institutions of Islam rather than the Vatican, his Catholic Republic modelled on nothing as closely as the theocratic states of Saudi Arabia and the like. So, too, he suggests:

This is the new frontier of globalized faith. The churches which will survive will be those which stand firm against competition in the new market of religions.
       Here, too, it's hard not to see Islam -- far more than Catholicism -- as one of his targets (though the (apparent) shift in the post-Benedict XVI Vatican probably makes a difference here, and the book may well have read slightly differently upon its initial publication in 2012).
       It's all a bit much to handle in a thriller of these proportions, with Marani's attack one that's just too blunt and aggressive. Still, God's Dog a fairly intriguing read, and a pretty decent thriller, with a compelling (if, in part, somewhat hard to stomach) protagonist.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 May 2014

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God's Dog: Reviews: Other books by Diego Marani under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author and linguist Diego Marani was born in 1959.

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© 2014-2024 the complete review

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