Italian author Diego Marani’s latest novel imagines a bizarre and intriguing world of thrillers and theocrats.
God’s Dog is an unsettling novel. Set in a parallel world where religious doctrine has replaced secular law, this vision of future Italy is a place where papal police carry guns, abortion is punishable by death, and atheists are hunted down as terrorists.
Against this dystopian background Marani juxtaposes a classic detective thriller plot, re-imagining the genre and creating an atmosphere which perhaps could be best described as ‘Catholic noir’.
Marani’s Rome is far from the bustling, tourist-filled city we know it as. Instead, a dark, claustrophobic underworld, whose inhabitants live in shadows and suffer well-justified paranoia reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 is presented. Rather than poorly-lit police offices, bars and back alleys, Marani’s characters spend their time stalking around the pebbled streets of Rome, and inside oppressively ominous convents, churches and hospices.
At the centre of the novel, the ‘dog’ of the title, is Marani’s Chandler-esque protagonist, papal inspector Domingo Salazar. With a gun at his belt and a crucifix firmly ensconced in his robes, Salazar is an anti-hero in every sense of the word. Relentless, hard-nosed and possessed of a frightening religious fervour, Salazar is also a brilliant investigator who uses his sharp intellect and quick reflexes on a mission to track down a so-called enemy of the Church.
Marani paints wonderful portraits of the idiosyncratic inhabitants of this morally corrupt world, his descriptions altogether recognisably human. One villainous vicar is a particularly unsavoury creation who could have easily come across as over the top if his dogmatic diatribes weren’t so chillingly real.
Marani takes his time establishing Salazar and his relation to this world before picking up the pace dramatically in the second-half, introducing new characters and action at every turn. While the narration switches seamlessly between the perspectives of the character’s whose stories intertwine, the fast pace and breadth of the novel’s second-half doesn’t allow enough space to get to know them all as we would like.
It is a testament to Marani’s ability to create wholly ambiguous characters that the heartless Salazar comes across in the end as the most morally convicted. Indeed, it is difficult to sympathise with any of the character’s choices, even those who have been horribly victimised by the theocratic enforcers, as they each descend into violent means.
Ultimately the novel is Salazar’s story, and the surprising conclusion to it is both breathtaking and baffling (if not blasphemous). Marani’s novel is as disturbing and absurd as it is funny and touching. An enlightening read.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
By Diego Marani
Paperback, 152 pages, RRP $27.99
Published by The Text Publishing Company