God’s Dog is the story of Domingo Salazar, an inspector for the Papal police force, whose job it is to enforce the will of the Pope in a future Italy run by the Catholic Church. In a tale of striking plausibility, Salazar is set on the trail of an abortionist doctor who is also linked to a terrorist plot against the Vatican. The hunter eventually becomes the hunted, and Salazar discovers he is himself under investigation by his own theocratic employers, for it turns out that he has been a very naughty Catholic in a number of ways.
Marani’s irreverent and humorous portrayal of a future Catholic state is highly enjoyable. The inner twistedness of the state’s servants is given amusing expression by their bizarre appearance and behaviour. We meet a one-eyed vicar who takes great pleasure in placing his prosthetic eye in his mouth and rolling it around while fantasizing about devouring it, because he’d love to see what his organs look like. Then we meet the cadaverous, Bull-Mastiff-eyed Medical Guarantor of Faith (whatever that means) from whose chin protrudes a horn-like white goatee, and from whose mouth protrude the funniest lines of the book.
So the book is comical, unless you’re quite religious (in which case it’s probably deeply, unbearably offensive). It’s not just comical/unbearably offensive, though. Marani also deals powerfully with the theme of misplaced spiritualism, through the characterisation of Salazar. The description of Salazar is important, because it denotes the blind loyalty he has for the church which found him as a child in the ruins of Haiti in 2010, and which directed and effectively determined his life from that point on. Through the narrative device of his private diary, we learn early on that he feels deeply at odds with the church, to the point where he actually takes pleasure in flouting its strictures.
When it turns out the church wants him dead, he is certain that he is being hunted because he has angered some church official. In reality, it seems fairly certain that his behaviour and actions have been enough alone to warrant his extermination, at least in the eyes of an authoritarian Catholic state. Through Salazar, Marani poignantly illustrates the tragedy of indoctrination. For children such as Salazar, their spiritualism should not be seen as misplaced, because they never got the chance to place it in the first instance.
Though the plot and the themes are all very good and interesting, it would be amiss not to stress that it’s really the style of the book that is its main source of excellence. Diego Marani is an author with an incredible talent for freshness and clarity. Every scene of God’s Dog feels totally, artfully real, and as a result, the experience of reading the book is both gritty and sublime.
It pays to read this book slowly, because even though it only consists of 150 pages or so, it is densely packed with strong impressions, detailed descriptions, and scenes that deserve to be lavished with attention. The fact that the English version is a translation from the original Italian makes the odd sentence slightly jarring. In a way though, the presence of such minor bumps in the flow of the writing is a good thing. Like speed bumps in a road, they force you to slow down and focus on your surroundings. Otherwise, if you keep up your speed and skip over the bumps, you risk damaging your vehicle and/or injuring a pedestrian, because most speed bumps are located in residential areas to prevent accidents. I feel like I may have lost the simile at some point there, but you know what I mean. Speed bumps are good, sometimes.