Richard Adams was born in Berkshire in 1920, and is probably best known for his debut novel, "Watership Down" - a story he originally told to his children, to help pass the time on long car journeys. "The Plague Dogs" was his third novel, and was first published in 1977 - and, like its predecessor, it was adapted into an animated film.
The book's two heroes are Rowf and Snitter - two dogs, and victims of scientific research. Rowf is a large, black mongrel who is constantly being drowned and resusitated while Snitter, a fox terrier, has had brain surgery. (There seems to be little point to the experiments - they're apparently being carried out just for the sheer hell of it). Naturally, Rowf has come to hate the water tank, while the surgery has left Snitter suffering from regular bouts of confusion. Unlike Rowf, who'd been bred for research, Snitter had once been a pet - and despite his operation, he knows there are better people out there than the "whitecoats." The pair are incarcerated at the Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental) labs, based in northern England's Lake District. (The institution's acronym, I'm guessing, gives some idea of what Adams thought about animal experimentation). The book opens on a Friday evening, and Snitter notices that Rowf's cage hasn't been properly closed. He manages to wriggle underneath the partition and the pair manage to escape into the outside world.
Although delighted to have escaped their tormentors, there soon realise that life on the outside isn't going to be easy. At first, Snitter tries to find them a new master - but each effort, naturally, ends in disaster. They soon realise they'll have to feed themselves, and find somewhere dry to sleep. Unfortunately, when they start taking sheep, the local farming comunity decide the dogs are a burden they could do without. The farmers suspect the dogs had indeed escaped from the research station and, when the tabloids get involved, there is a good deal of hysteria whipped up...
I read "The Plague Dogs" for the first time when I was thirteen, and - having re-read it many years later - I'd still rate it very highly. It isn't always an easy read, though; in fact, the first edition of the book's apparently had a slightly different ending to later editions, one that was slightly less warming. There's plenty of cruelty, thanks to ARSE's scientists and their experiments - though few of the humans in the book cover themselves in glory. There's little in the way of happiness, and throughout the book I just couldn't help feeling sorry for the dogs. They really only have one ally, a fox who speaks with a Geordie accent. Nevertheless, some of the writing is wonderful - Adams clearly loved the Lake District area, and the descriptions of the scenery are vivid. However, some of the characters' accents might be a little tricky enough...
I first read this 30yrs ago when living in the Lake District and loved following the journey on the Wainwright maps. If you can get an original copy with the maps, do. This book is wonderful and horrific in equal measure. While reading it I got so caught up in their journey that there wasn't time to she'd a tear, but since finishing I blub just at the mention of it. That's how powerful a book it is. Everyone should read this book, it carries such an important message. But do have a box of tissues to hand!
Re-reading this book, after 30 years, I am again impressed by the sheer power of the author's writing. You don't just feel on the side of the two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, but you begin to think like them. Snitter, in the lucid moments when he is not affected by experimental brain surgery, shows a fine understanding of human nature, learned from a kind master. Rowf has never been domesticated, and is strong and brave, but ignorant. Tod, the fox who befriends them, is canny. Although the story starts in an Animal Research Station (from which the dogs escape), the author does not take sides on animal experimentation, merely reporting factually; he is not so even-handed when it comes to fox-hunting, the death of Tod is very upsetting. The book takes you on a Lakeland tour, helped by Wainwright's maps, but out-of-season in late Autumn, when it is the domain of the sheep farmers, their dogs and sheep. Some of the humans come across as stereotypes (although I loved Annie Mossity!), but the redemption of the journalist Digby Driver is a nice touch. The one difficulty I had with this book is the variety of dialects, both human and animal. All in all, this is a book well worth reading, if you can find a copy- as it is out of print in paperback.
First read this in my teens many moons ago. An interesting book, and yes the animal experimenters still sit around thinking what experiments they can perform and get away with while claiming to be only interested in saving human lives. One day experiments on animals will be looked back at for the archaic barbaric practice it is, sadly I think not in our life time. Too many vested interests too much money to be made from it & a very gullible general public who still believe experimenting on animals saves human lives just because they believe what those with vested interests tell them. Humans are not rats, monkeys or dogs. & our closest genetic relative,the chimpanzee,has yielded little or no relevant insight leading to cures for human disease, that is why laboratories in the USA are quietly releasing chimpanzees to sanctuaries. If they were proving useful would they be releasing them ?
This, Richard Adams' third book after 'Watership Down' and 'Shardik', is probably his best. The book dismisses 'Watership Down''s relative sentimentality for more brutal subject matter but still manages to champion animals over humans for a happy ending. It's also a very philosophical work, as the story goes beyond the escape of the principal characters of Rowf and Snitter into the human and political world to show its rank underbelly. Brilliant.
This book is extraordinarily well written. It is the only book to make me cry whilst reading it, and the issues it raises are both though provoking and significant to the present day. Before people condem the issues as fabricated fiction, I would like to point out that in my copy of the book,at least, the author states that every experiment described in the book has been performed in real life. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, and it takes a little while to get into, so don't give up on it until you have at least read the first hundred pages.
The fate of two dogs rests on a battle between the best of humans and the worst of humans. It is a gripping story well told. This book has been in my top three since I first read it many years ago. I leant and lost my copy - thank goodness for Amazon and finding another one.