40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Rumor has it that the number one least appreciated and fantastic fantasy writer of the English language in the United States is Diana Wynne Jones. Rumor also has it that one of her best written works (little known) is the delightful "Dogsbody". Truthfully, I hadn't heard anyone give this book any credit until I decided to work my way through all the great unknown children's books. This book falls squarely into the slightly more adult kids fare (as will be explained) but that doesn't stop it from being a really wonderful work of art. This is one of those book gems one often wishes they could find but so rarely do. Beautifully written, it's a classic.
The great Dog Star Sirius is on trial for his life. Though we puny humans don't know it, the stars, planets, and even satellites have their own distinct lives and actions. When Sirius finds that he has been falsely accused of murder, he is sentenced to live out his days as a real honest-to-goodness dog on Earth. If he can locate a weapon of mass destruction belonging to the Luminaries that has fallen to earth and retrieve it in his doggie state, he will be returned to his original form. This is not only a story about learning to control one's own actions, but a touching tale of a girl and her not so ordinary pup.
Originally published in 1975, the book is one of those stories that make you sit up and say, "huh?". Where did Diana Wynne Jones even get this idea? Reading through this book I got the same feeling I received as when I saw the movie, "Being John Malcovich". Mainly, a sense of "how could a person think this up?". As it is, the book could easily have fallen victim to its fantasy elements. Instead, it's a wonderful tale of pet love. Both dogs AND cats get a fair amount of attention in this tale, so don't fear. Just because the hero is in a dog's body, that doesn't mean felines are naturally made out to be the villains. What's really a joy about this book is the amount of time the author spends on Sirius's dog nature verses his luminary nature. From interesting smells to a female dog in heat (nothing graphic occurs, so qwitcherbelliaking) we truly understand what a canine must go through every day of its life.
Jones is just as canny with her human subjects as she is with her animal or ethereal ones as well. Sirius is rescued as a puppy from a river by a young Northern Irish girl named Kathleen. The girl lives with her aunt, uncle and two cousins (all of whom are English). Though her cousins act as boys are wont to do (they're neither villains nor saints, that's for sure) and her uncle is kindly but distant, Kathleen's aunt is the real terror in her life. A prejudiced mean Irish-hating creature, she takes a special delight in tormenting her unwanted charge. Only Sirius's presence keeps Kathleen happy and sane, though the threat of being put to sleep hangs over his head as long as Aunt Duffie is around. What I loved about all the people in this story was their capacity for change. Basil, the elder of Kathleen's two cousins, appears to be a real beast at first. He teases Sirius and occasionally lashes out at him, but it's clear that this is just the boy's misguided way of showing affection. No one is irredeemable in this book (though two rougue luminaries hunting for Sirius in his dog-form come close). Even the mythical being that appears at the end of the tale (Earth's darkest son) inspires more pity than fear.
If you want a good dog story and you don't mind a bit of fantasy as well, then I just can't recommend "Dogsbody" enough. Somebody ought to film this book. Better yet, author Jones should seriously consider writing a sequel. Though to the best of my knowledge no sequel was ever written, this book leaves itself wide-open for future furry adventures. For any kid who has ever loved an animal, this book is a standout, a knockout, and a sure-fire crowd pleaser. The best I've read in a long long time.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2002
In this universe, every celestial body is inhabited by an intelligent entity; in the case of stars, they're called luminaries. A luminary is not a solemn, grand tutelary angel as in Lewis' _Out of the Silent Planet_; on the other hand, a luminary isn't just another mortal entity, as with the Thinking Planets of some Star Trek novels. Luminaries have as much variation of personality as humans do, and in the case of stars, the star is merely the sphere that the luminary inhabits and is responsible for, not its physical body.
Sirius is notorious for his fiery temper; when he's accused of killing another luminary in a fit of rage for hanging around Sirius' Companion, he contaminates his own defense by losing his temper yet again, and as the story opens, a tribunal of other major luminaries is passing sentence on him. As Sirius is the viewpoint character (though not in first person), we're given the impression that his wrath is that of outraged innocence, but at first, we only learn that he's withholding facts that would make things look worse, and that the Judges are hoping to get a fuller story out of him. He's found guilty on 3 charges: murder; misusing a Zoi to commit the murder; and negligence (the Zoi was lost, thrown away to fall somewhere on Earth). But in view of his former high standing (and on grounds of temporary insanity), he's given a special suspended sentence of death: to be bound into a mortal body on Earth, where he must retrieve the Zoi to be reinstated. (We're given details about exactly what a Zoi is much later in the story: it's a very dangerous, sophisticated tool.)
When next Sirius wakes up, he's in the body of a newborn puppy in England. (Clever: Sirius is still himself, but he can't think properly until the puppy's body is more mature, so his viewpoint becomes that of an unusually bright dog for quite awhile.) He and his siblings are mutts born of a purebred, valuable dog; shortly after Sirius' arrival, the puppies are thrown into the river to drown. (Each is rescued and comes to live with a different person, meeting again only when they're half grown.) Sirius' savior is Kathleen, a young Irish girl sent to live with distant English relatives while her father serves a prison sentence for terrorist activities.
The Duffields aren't cardboard villains. They provide for Kathleen and don't physically abuse her, but Duffie (the mother) pours out continual verbal abuse on the laziness of the Irish while simultaneously loading most of the housework on Kathleen (holding her to a promise she made in exchange for keeping 'Leo', her new puppy - named for his fiery green eyes). Kathleen's too young and inexperienced to do everything well - and Duffie heaps more scorn on her rather than teaching her properly. The father is an anything-for-a-quiet-life type; he won't stand up to his wife but isn't unsympathetic. The older boy is picking up his mother's bigotry, but the younger boy, Robin, is a decent little kid.
Sirius, at first, is most concerned with avoiding trouble caused by Duffie's cats, who object to sharing the most affectionate person in the house with a dog. (He, in turn, feels that Kathleen is *his*, and is worried that she doesn't understand this and encourages the cats.) He gradually picks up human words and tries to avoid making trouble. Then one day the sun speaks to him...and although his body is still too young to let him remember properly, Sirius now has a powerful ally - Sol is rather annoyed at Sirius' sentence being passed without a word to *him*, as well as suffering from Sirius' incompetent replacement.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 1999
Kathleen's mother is dead, and her father, an Irish terrorist, is in prison. She is living with her father's brother's family, in England. Despised by her peers for being Irish, despised by her aunt as an unwanted burden, she is a modern-day Cinderella.
Sirius is a star. We know of it as the dog star. In this fantasy, Sirius is a living being, that lives in the sphere of the star. He is in big trouble, accused of murdering a lesser star by using a celestial weapon to cause his sphere to go nova. Wrongly convicted of the murder, Sirius is condemned to a dog's life - and death - on Earth, unless he can find the missing weapon and return it to the stars.
The story of Kathleen and Sirius' relationship, and Sirius' quest to return to the skies is touching, funny, and amazingly believable. The tale is filled with adventures and trials, and has action enough to engage any kid. It also deals with poignant human relationships, and touches on legend in a manner guaranteed to engage most adults.
This is a wonderful story, and a great read for nearly anyone.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2002
This book is very good. I was browsing in the book store, and came across this one... it looked interesting enough, and better yet the 'herione' of the story had my name, so what the heck. I began to read it on the plane, and couldn't put it down. I finished it in about two hours. It is an enthralling fantasey about Sirius, the dog-star, and how he is cast to live on Earth as a dog because he supposedly murdered another star. He was adopted by an Irish girl named Kathleen (that's me!)who lives with her aunt and uncle, who are Brits. This being so she often gets teased for being Irish. Sirius has to find a Zoi, which is a weapon he supposedly used to murder the other star. He gets help from Sol, the sun, and many other people like that group of four dogs, Bruce, Patchie, Redears, and someone else (I don't really remember who) who look just like him...pure white with red ears.
I didn't really like the ending, because it was pretty sad. I won't tell you what happens, but if you don't like sad endings, don't read this book. I cried, and had to force myself to read the remaining few pages. But even though the ending was sad, the whole book was awesomely written, and I totally advise you to read it. :)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2000
This will surely be the book by which posterity will remember Diana Wynne Jones, whose imagination is never less than astonishing. I was lucky enough to have obtained a second-hand copy of Dogsbody (for NZ$3.50--about US$1.75--and in extremely good condition) just before suffering from a nasty bout of flu. Painkillers took care of the worst of the aches that plagued every muscle I owned, while Diana Wynne Jones transported me from my bed to another world, where Sirius the Dog Star is accused of murdering a neighbouring luminary and is punished by being sent down to earth to live as a dog, in which form he will die unless he can recover the mysterious Zoi with which he is supposed to have committed his heinous crime.
Apart from having to cope with only dim memories of the star-world from which he has fallen (not to mention a brain that keeps wanting to be just a dog's brain!) Syrius has to face an impossible task in a form that places enormous obstacles in his path: puppies are all too often dumped into the river in sacks to drown; many dogs are tied up while their owners go to work; fences are invariably too high to jump; and a dog's life-span is very short. As if all this isn't bad enough, he has to overcome other-worldly obstacles as well.
Diana Wynne Jones must have been a dog in another life--but certainly no ordinary dog. This is not just a book for children. Adults of all ages, whatever their literary tastes, will enjoy it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2002
...have never heard of Diana Wynne Jones before, but I was in the bookstore and saw this book. It had fantasy and animals, my two favorite things, so I decided to try it. I was amazed. Her descriptions of how the animals think are wonderful, and I couldn't put this book down. The plot is great. You learn about the dog, Sirius', true self as he does. I laughed a lot and even cried a bit. I love the dog's perspective on things. I'm now getting into other books by Diana, but this is by far my favorite. Give it a try. At the least you'll find it amusing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2006
Imagine that the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, and every stellar body in the sky are alive and conscious, possessed by great spirit beings known as "illuminaries." This is the story about one of the greatest of such entities, Sirius - the Dogstar.
Notorious for his fiery temper, Sirius is unjustly found guilty by his celestial peers for the murder of another illuminary. Their sentence upon him is unusual and involves a mission: The murder weapon, the "zoi," has landed on the Earth. Sirius is to locate and retrieve this thing that has the unfathomable power to destroy suns. His judges, however, make sure that it will not be such an easy task. Part of Sirius' sentence is to be born on Earth as one of that sphere's creatures, a dog. Upon his birth he will have the time of a dog's lifespan to locate and retrieve the zoi. Otherwise he will die as a common earth animal and his spirit will cease to exist.
Born into an unwanted litter of white-furred and green-eyed Labrador mixed breeds, he is soon after tossed into the water with the other pups to die. Fortunately he is saved by Kathleen, a lonely Irish Catholic girl who is shunned and mistreated by the English relatives she is forced to stay with while her father does time in prison. Naming him Leo, Kathleen is at the start Sirius' only protector, while he is her only friend. Duffie, her uncle's wife, is a mean-spirited menace for both of them, constantly threatening to have the dog put down and turning Kathleen out into the streets.
Although in the beginning Leo/Sirius is barely aware of his preternatural origins, certain memories and ideas begin to enter and alter his dog mind. After some initial hostility (of course) with Tibbles the housecat and her two sons, the three felines soon befriend the canine and show him ways of getting around --and out of-- the house. In his daily travels away from the house he is soon aided by Sol, the illuminary of our own sun, and the spirits of the Earth and Moon. He also encounters a mysterious pack of sinister dogs looking very much like him. As he remembers more of his former existence and his mission, Sirius becomes conflicted with many complicating factors which stall his goal. He must deal with the biological and instinctual urges of his dog nature. And, most importantly, he is torn by the desire to remain with Kathleen, giving her the love and sense of security she desperately needs.
Immediately after reading C. McCallister's excellent review of DOGSBODY I wanted to get this book. I'm glad to say that I was not disappointed. Diana Wynne Jones has written a charming but bittersweet story that will appeal to both children and adults. Sci-fi, fantasy, even murder mystery fans have reason to read and enjoy this book. The characters --human, animal and celestial-- have a complexity of personality rarely seen in stories such as this.
After reading this book, you will never look at a bright eyed, tongue flapping mutt like you used to do.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 1998
I am 30 years old, and an aspiring author, and there have been a few books which over the years have played key roles in the shaping of my style. Dogsbody is one of them. I picked the book up at a used book sale at my local Public Library when I was 12 years old, and have never let it get far out of my sight since. In fact, if there was a fire in my home, my copy of Dogsbody would be one of the treasures that would go out the door with me as I fled. Diana Wynne Jones has my eternal admiration and respect, and if you are not one of the fortunate people who have read Dogsbody, then I suggest doing what it takes to get your hands on a copy. (No matter what your age.) It is a masterpiece. (I understand that the book is out of print, but it is worth searching out.) If I may use the weapon for which Sirius searches in the book as a metaphor, then I would like to say, "May you all find your Zoi." -Rod Gray-
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2002
As a fantasy loving child I somehow overlooked Diana Wynne Jones and as an adult and I have been slowly trying to rectify that. I recently read Dogsbody, intrigued because I am interested in astronomy and a dog lover. The story of the dog star, Sirius falsely accused and sent to earth in dog form to try to save himself sounded appealing and on the whole it was an enjoyable story, although I would hesitate to call it a classic.
While the story of an unwanted puppy who is rescued by an equally unwanted little girl could easily have descended into smaltz, Jones, deft writer that she is, manages to sidestep that with a certain matter-of-factness about their shared circumstances. Her characterizations of the inner lives of dogs and cats will ring true with anyone who is an animal lover. Their mannerisms, personalities and cleverness are just what we always suspected in our pets! I also enjoyed the appearance by the Master of the Hunt and his unearthly hounds - a little Celtic mythology to give the story some depth.
On the otherhand, I was also disappointed with the rather weak mystery that drives the plot. Obviously Sirius needs to find the Zoi but I never felt as if Jones did a very good job of describing what it was, or giving a very good idea of its power. The involvement of his companion in his predicament is also not very well explained. We know what her role was, but we never get a sense of why. And while Sirius' quest to find the Zoi is filled with interesting incidents and people, Mrs. Smith for example, as a mystery it just didn't hold up very well. I also wanted to know more about the luminaries and how they came to be but we only get the barest glimpse of their society and powers.
While I personally think that a little more detail and background would have made a better story, maybe Jones, just by coloring in the barest outline and freeing the reader's imagination to fill in the rest achieved exactly the kind of story she thought readers would want. Judging by the enthusiastic reviews posted here a lot of other readers agree. I am happy to be able to recommend it as well to kids and adults alike. Enjoy!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is a very cute little fantasy, one of Diana Wynne-Jones's standalones (rather than a series or a duology). Though this is not my favorite of her standalones, it's nevertheless an entertaining fantasy read.
Sirius is the Dog Star, a luminary celestial being -- and a pretty powerful one at that. But when he is falsely accused of murder with a Zoi -- an object of power, he is banished to Earth in the form of a dog. A real dog, canine, woof woof. He's horrified, and for a while we follow his transition from a barely-aware pup to an adult dog who is starting to remember his true identity -- and his mission. He was adopted early in his dog's life by a girl named Kathleen -- he is her only friend, as her mother ran away her father is imprisoned in Ireland, and the people around her treat her with scorn for being Irish. "Duffie" in particular is nasty, forcing Kathleen to do all the housework and repeatedly threatening to have Sirius put down.
Then his real life behins to catch up with him. He meets the Sun luminary, Sol, and encounters such creatures as his ex-Companion -- whom, he remembers, helped set him up. There is also the sinister, icy-cold dog Yeff and his strange Master, where threads of Celtic mythology are woven into the storyline. With his human friends, dog and cat friends, and the assistance of the Sun and Earth, Sirius tries to find the Zoi and save not only himself, but perhaps even the world.
I expected a great deal more from this book than I got. Perhaps it's because the idea of stars in semi-humanoid form is so very rich in potential, but often the story veered dangerously close to a straightforward anthropomorphic fantasy. You have no idea how relieved I was when Sirius encountered Sol and was reminded of his former status.
Wynne-Jones's writing is impeccable yet again, and her descriptions of a dog viewpoint were pretty good, in my limited experience (having never been a dog). I enjoyed such interactions as the ones between the dogs and cats (such as Sirius's rescue of Tibbles) and between dogs and humans, as Sirius finds that not all humans dislike him and becomes loyally steadfast to Kathleen and to the quirky old Miss Smith.
Kathleen is a fairly straightforward Cinderella heroine -- only the scene where she smashes pottery and where she is bullied for being Irish really stand out. Basil and Robin, her cousins, are slightly darker horses in that you sometimes don't know whether to like or dislike them. Miss Smith is delightful, as is the poisonously polite, extremely steadfast Sol. There is also the quiet, gentle Earth; Patches the idiotic dog; Tibbles and the other two cats; the despicable Duffie; and the cold, shrill, even more despicable Companion.
This is a fairly straightforward story, and though I was somewhat bored by the first two thirds, the last third speeds up and becomes truly intriguing and amazing. Read and enjoy.