on 15 April 2002
I was probably about 9 years old when I first read "Dogsbody" and, at the age of 33, I'm re-reading it for the umpteenth time and ejoying it just as much as ever. It's gripping, imaginative, full of wonderful characters and centres around the beautiful Sirius, a star that I've always loved since my mother first pointed him out to me. I defy anyone not be completely enthralled by this wonderful novel and if you think that maybe your kids are a little too young to manage it (I'm about to give a copy to a precocious 8 year old whom I'm sure will love it) then read it to them. I promise you'll enjoy the experience as much as they do. And if you don't have kids, just read it for yourself and before long you'll find yourself completely immersed in the adventures of the hapless dog star in puppy form. And the chances are, every time you look up at Sirius's green hue in the night sky, you'll remember this fabulous book that's dedicated to him.
on 31 March 2011
Only recently did I start reading Diana Wynne Jones' work. For some unknown reason I missed out on reading her books when younger; which is a shame as I think I would have enjoyed them then just as much as I do now.
Dogsbody is not a book I chose by browsing. The decision to buy it was because John Scalzi, the science-fiction writer, wrote about it on his blog (where he posted the sad news that Diana Wynne Jones had passed away on 26th March 2011). I'm very glad Mr. Scalzi did mention Dogsbody because it is a wonderful book. It is not without some flaws. This might well be because it's one of her earlier published books.
The opening scene has an influence of Greek mythology. The galactic stars are holding a court case for one of their number, Sirius, the Dog Star. All the stars, and planetary bodies, have their own characters in this story. Sirius is hot tempered and, seemingly, quite violent in temperament.
Being thrown into the midst of this galactic scale of justice is also a little confusing at first. It's difficult to get to grips with what sort of beings these are. In terms of characterisation it reminded me strongly of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics.
Sirius receives an archaic punishment by being re-born, in an instant, as a puppy on Earth. His task is to find an extremely powerful object called a Zoi, if he fails he will live and die as an earthly creature. The idea of what a Zoi is appears a bit vague. I wasn't entirely sure whether it was a mechanism, sentient being or both.
The scenes from Sirius' early life are rather bleak. Sirius has some luck though and he finds his way to Kathleen, a young girl who very much wants to protect him. With the introduction of Kathleen, and the family she lives with, the story takes more of a turn to fairytale structure. The Duffield family has those recognisable characters of wicked stepmother, kind but disinterested father, bullying elder brother and the younger, more sensitive son. Some of the characters are hard to get a grip on though. Why is Mrs Duffield so unrelentingly bad? What it is that motivates her extreme anger in all aspects? This remains a mystery to me. The brothers and the father have more variety in their reactions over time. You can see the writer's emerging love of playing with stereotypes and fantasy tropes.
Kathleen can also prove problematic. She is hopelessly oppressed and lonely until Sirius arrives in her life. Sympathetic as her character is; she can appear a bit too perfect in her passiveness until towards the end of the book. There are many interesting elements here though. As another reviewer mentions; the period setting of the book does include mentions of the Troubles (the long period of warfare in Northern Ireland). References to Kathleen's father are subtly and intelligently written. It is never made clear exactly what he has done or whether he is linked to either side of the paramilitary organisations that flourished then. The level of casual racism and bullying towards Kathleen (and Irish people in general) is a realistic and unsettling touch.
Sirius' story is truly charming though. The scenes of his domestic life as a dog, how he deals with the family cats, which is one of my favourite things in the whole book, how he learns about the wider world are so absorbing and humorous to read. Without giving spoilers, I also loved how DWJ decided to end the book. It could have so easily slipped into a standard fairytale ending in the hands of a lesser writer.
One final point for the HarperCollins 2010 paperback edition; the Tim Stevens' drawing used for each chapter heading is definitely not the best of his work. This might be down to poor print reproduction but it took until the end of the book to roughly guess what on earth the black, blobby drawing was of and I'm not entirely sure even now.
on 1 April 1998
"Dogsbody" is one of those children's books with real literary merit - my mother stole it out of my bookshelf and read it herself with guilty pleasure. The main characters are complex and never flat, and Wynne Jones conjures up vivid scenes with a few deft strokes of detail. It's one of her best books, and I think it's an incredible shame that young teens in the future won't be able to enjoy it like I did. I'm going to hoard my copy for MY children!
When I was very young, I read a book which my memory insisted was called 'Sirius the Dog Star', in which the star Sirius is exiled to earth in the form of a dog. It went missing, as a child's books often do, and none of the books I could find on occasional searching that matched the remembered title seemed to be the one I had read. Then, I found Dogsbody and, flush with recognition, bought it at once.
It's always been my view that children's literature should be *literature* first and foremost, and that the best children's books don't talk down to their readers. Dogsbody was a lovely read even for a man in his mid-30s - it's evocatively written, with a non-traditional view of cosmology and mythology that enriches the sense of being permitted a glimpse into a universe vast and alien. And yet, coupled as it is to a story told largely from the perspective of a dog, it's also very grounded. Sirius can communicate with animals, but not with people, and the frustrations he experiences because of this add a social layer to the already challenging job he has to do. The conflict between his immortal persona and the psychology of his dog nature is a recurring theme, and ensures that Sirius can be simultaneously infinite and relatable. Certain parts of the book are rather dark, like in the best children's literature, and there are complex ideas communicated through metaphor that add layers of deep meaning. There are also elements on the periphery, such as the political context of Britain at the time, that offer a glimpse into a prejudices of the recent past. It may be a book aimed at children, but there's a lot there for adults too.
I loved this book as a child - I enjoyed it very much as an adult, and a book that bridges those two completely different life phases has much to recommend it.
on 31 March 2002
Dogsbody was my first DWJ book - I was aged 11 and would disagree with the reviewer who said it isn't for kids - it's as easy to read as Harry Potter, and actually far better written - and more re-readable. I'm now 30 and have read and re-read all DWJ's books time and again. It's a great story full of fun - and great characters, children, adults, cats dogs, even our earth, moon and sun! One of her greatest talents as an author is to make you see the stories, vividly, in full colour in your imagination (mum is actually convinced she's seen a film of Charmed Life - I wish someone would make this into a film!). There is so much to enjoy in these stories for children and adults alike and I urge you to get hooked.
on 6 July 2013
Finding THREE all-time favourite Diana Wynne Jones books AND `Powell's World Of Books' in Portland (best physical bookstore on the planet) in a single day was unforgettable and would be a memorable event in any booklover's life.
The problem with a place like Powell's is of course that you want to stay forever, exploring.
Whereas discovering a new Diana Wynne Jones book means you imperatively have to read it on the spot, because you already know this could potentially be one of those that will not just make you laugh, but also make your mind expand, enrich your soul, lift your spirit and thereby turn you into a richer, better human being. Even the books she wrote for small children are a great read for all ages, because a good story is just that, period.
However these three looked really unusual and complicated - definitely not your average kid's book - so just about perfect for my 22-yr old, story-loving self. I finally emerged blinking onto Burnside, clutching a meager stack of books. Mentally and physically a little shaky (but glowing), having agonized over every single find (traveling meant really no space or money for books).
This trio with 'Dogsbody', 'The Time Of The Ghost' The Time of the Ghost and `Fire And Hemlock' Fire and Hemlock were stellar finds that day, every bit as described above, read many times since, lent to friends and family, returned (or not, as they were inevitably treasured by everyone), re-bought, etc.. If you do not know them yet, consider yourself lucky - because now you know, you can track them down and discover them for yourself. Enjoy!
on 22 June 2000
It's been almost twenty years since I first read this book as a young child and I can still remember the marvelous plot. In the Universe of Dogsbody Stars (as in the sky not on the screen) are luminous beings. Sirius (the dogstar) is accused and found guilty of a crime--his sentance: to live on earth in the body of a dog (thus the title). I won't reveal anymore of the plot. But for any child who has ever loved his (or her) dog this is a wonderful gift
on 26 June 2010
Sirius, the denizen of the Dog Star, is wrongly convicted of murdering another denizen and as a punishment is sent to Earth where he is 'reborn' as a puppy and given the life-span of that dog to clear his name.
On Earth he's adopted by a young girl called Kathleen. DWJ does a fantastic job of showing us the world from a puppy's point of view and there were some laugh out loud moments as well as lots of cute ones (the personifications of the different dogs were hilariously accurate). But the book also deals with some more serious issues just as well, Kathleen is Irish and living with her aunt and uncle in England during The Troubles. Her aunt resents her and in exchange for being allowed to keep Sirius the puppy, Kathleen has to do all the housework which makes her tired for school and and easy target for some Irish jibes from her schoolmates.
A great children's/YA book and I enjoyed it much more than the more well known Howl's Moving Castle. In typical DWJ fashion, the ending was.. unexpected. And made me cry. Highly recommended.
on 1 August 2007
Like many reviewers here, I read Dogsbody when I was about 10 in the 1970s and I have very strong, nostalgic feelings for it. The story incorporates galactic fantasy, earth-bound legend and a lonely girl - all packaged with Diana Wynne Jones' amazing ability to weave seemingly incompatible elements together into an exciting story. Although I really love this book, and will probably re-read it every couple of years or so till the day I die, I am not sure that it will have the relevance for a new generation of readers that it had for me: uncharacteristically for DWJ a significant part of the sub-plot is 'time-bonded' - i.e. set specifically in the 1970s, and it has become a little dated. If I were recommending an introduction to the writing of DWJ to a ten/eleven year old today Dogsbody probably wouldn't be the first book I suggested, probably the third or fourth. However, this doesn't diminish the wonderful storytelling, and whenever I think about this story I still hope that Kathleen somewhere has changed her mind.
on 19 March 2004
I read this book when I was about 9 or 10 and it's still my favourite book.
The storyline is brilliant, who would have thought of a 'luminary' being brought to life as a humble dog on Earth with a quest to regain his good name?!
Why, Diana Wynne Jones of course!
Her style is always accessible, the stories complicated yet understandable and the characterisations are full bodied and believable.
Please read this book!