For my Book Club, I read a novel entitled The Philosopher’s Doll by Amanda Lohrey, an Australian writer. The title refers obliquely to ‘The Philosopher’s Dog’, the name of a book by the philosopher, Raimond Gaita, in which the narrator/writer tries to get into his dog’s head. It also points to other writings by writers who have explored this theme of human/animal differences, including Coetzee in Disgrace, a perfectly structured novel; and philosophers down through the ages, such as Descartes, Wittgenstein and Heraclitus, who could be called ‘explorers of the human mind’. As a writer interested in narrative, and also someone drawn towards philosophy and psychology, I find such writers and writings fascinating and absorbing.
One of the interesting things about Lohrey’s novel is that it has an imbalanced structure, which is given prominence by way of ironic segment labels: ‘Duck’, ‘Dog’, ‘Dildo’ and ‘Torque’. In addition, there is an intrusive 1st person narrator, who enters the novel in the last two shorter segments, ‘Dildo’ and ‘Torque’. This awkward ‘damaged’ structure serves to highlight the theme of human imperfection, contrasting with canine breeding that is central to the novel. The characters in the novel are flawed, but this represents their ‘humanity’ because we judge them according to moral or ethical standards. And this points to the essential difference between dogs and humans, as portrayed in this novel. Dogs can be created ‘perfect’ through breeding and training, whereas humans will always remain subject to the vagaries of social rituals, genes and fate. Just like the three main characters in the novel, our human narratives are the result of complex intertwining forces, both random events and predetermining elements, such as genes and social factors. Our relationship with dogs will always remain complex, too, because it goes back such a long way into tribal history, when they first started to emerge from the ‘pack mentality’ and to befriend and depend on humans.
A Chow dog is a central motif in this novel. The storyline involves a man, Lindsay, planning to buy a dog for his wife, Kirsten, who is trying to decide when to reveal to her husband that she is pregnant.
For a more traditional analysis of the novel from a reader’s point of view, see website link.