Sirius, the personification of the Dogstar, is exiled to Earth and given the lifespan of a dog to discover the whereabouts of the Zoi, a celestial tool of immense power which was allegedly used by him to destroy another Luminary. He has the limitations of his canine body but slowly remembers the task for which he was exiled. At the same time he is drawn to help and comfort his owner Kathleen who has troubles of her own. He befriends the house cats, other dogs, other humans, and Sol, the celestial being of this solar system. Finally he encounters a mysterious hunter, a child of Earth, who has possession of the Zoi.
The author deftly weaves the different levels of storytelling with each other, with Sirius at their centre. While still a dog, and driven by doggy instincts, he recalls little by little the powerful being that he was and the task he has been given. Getting that balance right is key to the story and the author succeeds. At no point is Sirius simply a lordly being wholly frustrated by being confined to a dog-suit. Nor, once he has recalled his former life, is he ever entirely a dog again. Except, perhaps, when he joins the ranks of suitors lining up in front of a bitch in heat without really understanding what strange compulsion keeps him there. The author see-saws just nicely between what Sirius is trying to communicate and what the humans are understanding. It occasionally verges on the faintly comical, but comedy is not the aim of the story, and it never goes beyond a slight smile.
Sirius, in his doggy way, manages to make friends around the town as he scrounges for the food Kathleen is too hard up to provide. He chances on other dogs from the same litter, a fact which he turns to his advantage when being chased later on by renegade celestial beings. He also befriends various people who are happy to give him food, especially Mrs. Smith who recognises something special in him and is able to help Kathleen out when her aunt orders the dog to be put down.
The Duffield family, Kathleen’s uncle and his wife and children, make her life difficult but are not caricatures. The reader is, early on, given the benefit of Sirius’ newly-regained powers of perception. The well-meaning husband who hides from problems unless they inconvenience him personally; the older son who mocks his cousin because he’s copying his mother; the younger son who is torn between aping his older brother and being his own affectionate self. And all of them have their better moments. Except, unfortunately, Mrs Duffield who is unregenerate to the end.
The story’s emotional centre is the relationship between Sirius, exiled from his star, and Kathleen, exiled from her native Ireland. His natural inclination is to put his own needs first while his new-found canine tendency is to comfort Kathleen. The story makes it clear that Sirius was framed and that his trial and punishment were a politically pragmatic manoeuvre. At the same time the circumstantial evidence brought against him of his readiness to flare up in anger are well-founded. It’s not clear whether his time on Earth as a dog genuinely improves him in this respect, but at the end he is certainly far more ready to do things for other people than for himself. In particular, he realises that what he formerly viewed as affection for his companion star was little more than the infatuation dogs feel for a bitch in heat. (There are no indelicacies in the narrative on this front). And he realises also that his rather doggy affection for Kathleen, who has problems of her own, is somewhat more genuine.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of goodtoread.org.