I think that Dogsbody, along with The Time of the Ghost and A Tale of Time City, would probably rank among my least favourite Diana Wynne Jones titles. (And the Dalemark books.) This would be the pre-reread project ranking, mind. I’ve reread both The Time of the Ghost and A Tale of Time City somewhat recently, and decided that I liked them a lot more than I thought I did. And unsurprisingly, the same happened with Dogsbody.
In this book, Sirius is Lord of the Dog Star, wrongly accused of murder, misusing a MacGuffin (called a Zoi), and misplacing that Zoi. As punishment, he is stripped of his titles/powers and sent to earth to live out the lifespan of one of Earth’s sentient creatures – if he manages to find the Zoi in that lifespan, he will regain his position. In this way, Sirius is reborn as a puppy.
Yes, this is an animal book.
I think it was after reading Black Beauty that I had decided to never read an animal book ever again. And yet, somehow, because this is a book by Diana Wynne Jones, I ended up reading it. I told myself that Sirius – now named “Leo” by his owner – isn’t REALLY a dog, even when his thoughts read like what I thought a puppy’s would be like. But then he slowly regains awareness of who he is – or was – in a vague sort of way, because he’s still limited by the fact that he’s a dog. This encumbers him somewhat in his search for the Zoi, but he manages with the help of Sol (the Sun).
His owner, Kathleen, is an Irish girl living with her relatives, because her father’s in prison (due to being involved with the IRA) and her mother’s overseas, for reasons unexplained. Her aunt hates her and makes her do all the house work. One of her cousins bullies her – she’s also bullied by the boys in school on a daily basis. She has sort of an ally in her other cousin, Robin, and the cats, who are named Tibbles, Remus and Romulus*. And, of course, Sirius. In a way, while Dogsbody is the story of Sirius seeking justice, it’s also a story of Kathleen and Sirius – the relationship between a girl and her dog. And this is one of the things that I’ve glazed over the first time I read it.
It isn’t that Sirius’ search for the Zoi is so much more in focus or interesting – which it isn’t – but that I am very much a cat person. I think I was even more so as a kid, and had little interest in dogs. I love the cats in this story, and I’ve mistakenly remembered Tibbles as the one that teaches Sirius the meaning of “bath”. I like that the cats (Tibbles in particular) are depicted as sensible and sometimes wise, while the dogs are more simple, and start most of their sentences with a “HALLO!” Reading it again now, I’m still amused by that, but I also find myself appreciating the relationship between Kathleen and Sirius a lot more. Since I remember being sad about the ending, I was dreading it, but I guess it turned out as more bittersweet and hopeful than outright tragic to me now.
I also remember the ending being confusing, because the stuff about Arawn had seemed like it appeared out of nowhere, but of course in my reread I’ve realised the clues Diana had inserted throughout. I suppose it helps that I’ve actually read up about Arawn since. And it makes me think again about this thing about Diana’s books, that reading it at different parts of your life just gives you more perspective and more to read into, and even with books you reread all the time, sometimes it feels like there’s an entire scene or chapter that you’ve never seen before – like it just popped out of nowhere, although really it’s because you finally get things that you may not have before. And I just love that about her writing.
* Totally Unrelated Side Note: Remus and Romulus! Wonder who named them. Surely not Duffie? Also, in this reread I’m remembering that this book has both a Sirius and a Remus. And it’s about Sirius who is wrongly accused of and punished for a crime he didn’t commit, and wanted to redeem himself. Not that Dogsbody is similar to Azkaban at all, but I remember not being surprised by the twist about who/what Sirius is, because I’ve read Dogsbody, and so I was like, of course Sirius wasn’t guilty, and of course Sirius is a dog/animagus.
One of my favourite quotes:
“The trouble with humans is that it’s all or nothing with them. They seem to think that anything impossible could happen in the old days. And just because these are new days, they tell you none of it is true.”