Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Meg Rosoff - There is No Dog

From the occasional book reviews column - Meg Rosoff's funny, filthy, thought-provoking There is No Dog.


What kind of God would make a world like this? It's the question we ask when we start testing our theological chop in our teenage years: a world of wars and rape and environmental disaster, of pimples erupting just before the school dance and turning up to the ball and seeing your arch-enemy in the same dress as you (but a size smaller).

Meg Rosoff's answer? A negligent, floppy-haired teenage boy god - irritable, distractable, sex-mad and short-tempered, yet also rather luscious and prone to the odd moment of utter brilliance. In short, Bob.

Bob got the job of God of Earth after his mother won it in an intergalactic poker hand. 'There is no Dog' starts off like Douglas Adams: Bob takes up the job with some enthusiasm, bashing out the world in six days, with - as his factotum and middle-managementy sidekick Mr B likes to reflect - no long term plan or strategy, no consultation, no common sense:

In the beginning the earth was without form and void and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.

Only it wasn't very good light. Bob created fireworks, sparklers and neon tubes that circled the globe like weird tangled rainbows. He dabbled with bugs that blinked and abstract creatures whose heads lit up and cast long overlapping shadows. There were mile-high candles and mountains of fairy lights. For an hour or so, Earth was lit by enormous crystal chandeliers.

Bob thought his creations were very cool.

They were cool, but they didn't work.

So Bob tried for an ambient glow (which proved toxic) and a blinding light in the centre of the planet, which gave off too much heat and fried the place black. And finally, when he curled up in the corner of nothingness, tired as a child by the harebrainedness of his efforts, Mr B took the opportunity to sort things out - with an external star, gravity, roughly half a cycle in darkness and half in light so there was a Day and a Night. And that was that. The evening and the morning were the first day. Not fancy, but it worked.

Mr B's job is to clean up after Bob: he filters and files the prayer, and fixes things in small ways, where he can (where doing so doesn't fuck everything up beyond all belief accidentally). He spends a lot of time worrying about the whales, his own personal creation. But millennia on, Mr B has had enough of Bob - his ingratitude, his laziness, his romantic and sexual conquests. Mr B is submitting his resignation.

Meanwhile, Bob has fallen cataclysmically in love. The world will end (perhaps literally) if he doesn't get into the pants being worn by Lucy, a virginal and exquisite 21-year-old zookeeper. As Bob pursues Lucy, the weather goes nuts - snow in summer, floods, tornadoes. Bob is not a god of small considerations. Like any boy guided largely by his sexual organ, he is singleminded and one-eyed in this endeavour.

In another side story, Bob's mother Mona - a voluptuous, voluptuary goddess with more than a taste for gin - has lost Bob's pet Eck (a strange cross between a penguin and a lemur with an anteater's nose) in yet another poker game. In six weeks Eck will be eaten by Emoto Hed, a dangerous and powerful god. Bob's too busy wooing Lucy to worry his head overly much about Eck's fate right now (aside from moaning at Mona for messing with his life yet again), but Eck is undergoing an existential crisis:

So the answer to the question about whether he would have to die, Eck gathered, was yes. Yes, he would have to die; yes, he would be forgotten and the world would go on forever without him. With no mitigating circumstances to make the horror easier to swallow.

It strained his relationship with Bob. Why did you bother creating me, he wanted to ask. Why bother giving me a brain and a realisation of how miserable existence can be? Why did you invent creatures who die, and worse, who know they are going to die? What is the point of so unkind an act of creation?

Rosoff floats between Douglas Adams' giddiness, Douglas Coupland's work-place malaise, Michael Chabon's humid descriptions of teenage sexual obsession, and some P.G. Wodehouse sit-com humour. And through it all she maintains her own inimitable style, mixing musing on mortality with wanking.

The thing that's stayed with me from this book? Rosoff's evocation of teenage boys: self-centred, short-tempered, sex-mad and occasionally insanely amazing:

Mr B marvels that the same God who leaves his dirty clothes in a mouldering heap by the side of his bed could have created golden eagles and elephants and butterflies. Such moments of transcendent inspiration! Other creatures fill him with admiration as well - heavy loping striped tigers and graceful long-necked swans, creaking as they fly. Ludicrous pincushion porcupines. It's not that the boy is altogether devoid of talent, but he is devoid of discipline, compassion and emotional depth. Foresight.

And the last thing that I love? This isn't typical YA. By the end of the book, Bob's not a better person. Most of the adults have learned something and are moving on, but not Bob. Bob's still Bob - eternally teenaged, god bless him.

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