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The Dog takes the form of an interior monologue on the part of our narrator, a successful corporate secretary type in Dubai. Like all interior monologues (think James Kelman, for example), one’s enjoyment of it will depend on whether or not you “get” the narrator.

In this case, the narrator is not a nice man. A New York attorney of Swiss heritage, he has found himself running the sizeable fortune of the Batros family – an elderly Beiruti businessman and his two shady sons. Our narrator, who goes to some lengths to conceal his name (which is probably Xavier), takes a fairly hands-off approach to the work, batting away bothersome e-mails and simply signing documents provided by the Batros brothers, apparently without even bothering to read them. This allows our narrator to spend his time more usefully engaged in diving, running, wa*king and looking out of his impressive apartment window. He has a flunkey, Ali, to take care of any actual work that might pop up; when it doesn’t, Ali is a useful substitute for a real friend.

Our narrator affects nonchalance and modesty. He feigns compassion. Yet, when push comes to shove, everything is somebody else’s problem. He gazes intently at the inequalities in Dubai, shrugs his shoulders and sighs. Perhaps he gives a few dollars to a couple of NGOs to help alleviate the plight of the poor, but these donations are almost certainly less generous and more expedient than he makes out. For real charity, he believes his payment of Russian call girls represents a fair trickle down of wealth.

Our narrator has a past. He, like so many expats in Dubai, is escaping from a failed relationship which, despite his rationalisation, does not make him look good. But the present to which he has escaped is portrayed as shallow and worthless. There are material comforts, but there is envy of those who seem to have so much more. Despite being American, our narrator is still hired help. When he is obliged to offer an internship to Sandro Batros’s obese son, it becomes clear who calls the shots.

The narrative style is self-consciously legalistic. Long words are used, sometimes misused, when shorter ones would have done. There are brackets within brackets within brackets. The story wanders and rambles from one thread to another – which is useful in obscuring the fact that not much actually happens. There are loose ends all over the place; there are matters of intrigue that would not have had a second glance had our narrator and his colleagues not all been quite so bored. There are word-plays, hypothetical e-mails, barbed sarcasm. Most of all, there is self-promotion. Our narrator strives to assure us of his decency, intellect, good taste whilst bragging constantly of his close connections to serious players. It looks grotesque and Joseph O’Neill wants it to look grotesque.

Dubai itself is depicted in great detail – obviously through the jaundiced view of a man who is no longer in love with it, but nevertheless in a convincing way. The fragility of the model: palaces in the desert, artificial lagoons, multi-million dollar jobs, sports cars – all could be taken away at the click of someone’s fingers. Joseph O’Neill clearly presents the differentiated levels of privilege on offer, depending on your passport or ethnicity. This is compared and contrasted with the relatively recency of a modest history. There is a sense that, for expats, ambitions based on wealth and status only have meaning back home; in a foreign country the rules are different; status has no reference point and everything becomes ephemeral – living for the moment.

Sometimes it is said that the greatest gift is to see ourselves as others see us. Joseph O’Neill used the concept of the Anglo-Dutch outsider to give a quirky, offbeat view of New York in Netherland. Here, he uses the New Yorker to give an offbeat view of Dubai. Alas, Dubai is perhaps not quite substantial enough to warrant such a dissection; the quirkiness of Netherland and its plans for a cricket league are just not quite recreated in The Dog. It’s still a good novel, but it’s not Netherland.
 
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