A faithful family friend gives his all for “his” human family in this modern beast fable, another revisionist romp from the British author of The Dead Fathers Club (2007).
This one, originally published in the UK in 2004 as The Last Family in England, is narrated by Prince, a handsome Labrador dog, who “speaks” with other nonhuman creatures and communicates with humans by means of therapeutic tail-wagging and crotch-sniffing, and well-timed warning barks. We first meet Prince in the veterinarian’s office. Schoolteacher Adam Hunter has taken the beloved pooch to be put down—for reasons then explained in a book-length flashback. Prince admits he has violated the eponymous Pact adhered to by all Labradors, “the only dogs left who were willing to devote our lives to the protection of our masters.” As Prince explains (during walks in the park) to his “mentor” Henry, a sagacious retired police dog, the Hunters are a pawful. The aforementioned Adam is, in full midlife-crisis mode, under the spell of bewitching young aromatherapist Emily. Adam’s spouse Kate is puzzlingly unsettled by their re-acquaintance with Emily’s shark-like husband Simon, Adam’s former pal, who also, it appears, has a history with Kate. And the Hunters’ teenagers, Hal and Charlotte, are…well, teenagers. Inflamed emotions and miscellaneous misbehavior intensify, and corpses of multiple species begin piling up, as Prince struggles to avert the worst, inspired by the Pact’s dictum: “If one human Family is secure and happy, it means there is security and happiness beyond.” The novel works because its central conceit, and Prince, are real charmers. But the narrative is skimpy and redundant, perilously cute and clogged with anticipations of Haig’s Shakespeare-inflected The Dead Fathers Club (besides Prince, there are fellow mutts Falstaff and Lear).
By no means a failure, but Aesop and Orwell did it better.