‘The Dog’ is the tale of an American lawyer who, following the break-up of his long term relationship, and a chance encounter with an old college friend, re-locates to Dubai to manage the wealth of a rich Lebanese family – The Batros’s.
His job the newly created role of “family officer”. Its purpose to stop them from getting ripped off by anybody. In practice it means watching various family members shifting their wealth about and overseeing the ever growing number of companies within the family empire, ok-ing payments on their behalf, and also becoming treasurer of a charitable foundation he suggest the Batros’ set up. In reality the job mostly involves shuffling paper, monitoring emails, and frustration at various family members ignoring of his own emails to them.
So his life becomes ever more distracted by the minutia of daily life and custom in Dubai – both for exPats, locals, the one up-manship of Apartment block improvements, the building on ever larger apartment blocks, the plight and treatment of foreign workers.
There isn’t really much of a plot.
His chief pastimes seem to be diving (although this hobby seems to have stopped when diving buddy Ollie decides to stop) getting pedicures (from Ollie and his ever expanding employee base), using his massage chair, and visiting prostitutes. These and engaging in various forms of self justifying arguments for his lifestyle and job, and the lifestyle and jobs of others too. These take the form of imaginary emails not sent and lengthy passages philosophising, often in the form of legal argument, often about his ex Jenn and the reasons for the breakdown of their relationship.
He is a man who when he runs out of things to analyse, starts to analyses whether he is analysing too much.
Into this we also get a few events to hang these rambling around – the disappearance of a well know local diver (The man from Atlantis), and some bay-sitting duties for the 15 year old son of the Eddie’s brother Sandros.
This is a fun read. Working for an international law firm for many years and knowing many lawyers who have moved or spent time in Dubai, a lot of the experiences and views of life in the UAE rang true, as did description of various type of people to be found in the nouveau riche there. I’m sure the self obsessed and absorbed central character, who is never named (beyond being told his given name begins with X), and the sheer number of passages devoted to his endless (and perhaps pointless) powers of reasoning may not sit well with some readers, but for me it worked and also gives the book a nice undercurrent of humour. I smiled often reading this book.
“(The record! I’ve always found it a hoot, this mythic tabula on which our deeds are inscribed and preserved. Where is this record? Who is the recorder? Who are the readers of the record? Egocentricity! Superstition! Anthropocentricity! (One understands the metaphysical origins of the error, of course, it being an almost unacceptable and unbelievable proposition that we exist in an adjudicatory emptiness, and arguably a definition of the human must refer to our distinguishing if babyish sense of (and/or need for) being kept under observation or lorded over. (The fantasy of the record is closely preceded, surely, by the fantasy of the forum – the ideal if invisible fact-finding or listening body to which one mutters one’s arguments, sometimes audibly. I do it all the time. It’s consternating, really.))”
It also served to remind me that I’d always meant to read his previous novel Netherland, and that post booker I should probably, and belatedly, do so.