Friday, March 10, 2017

The Dogs of Babel - Carolyn Parkhurst

Summary: Paul Iverson's life changes in an instant. He returns home one day to find that his wife, Lexy, has died under strange circumstances. The only witness was their dog, Lorelei, whose anguished barking brought help to the scene - but too late. In the days and weeks that follow, Paul begins to notice strange "clues" in their home: books rearranged on their shelves, a mysterious phone call, and other suggestions that nothing about Lexy's last afternoon was quite what it seemed. Reeling from grief, Paul is determined to decipher this evidence and unlock the mystery of her death. But he can't do it alone; he needs Lorelei's help. A linguist by training, Paul embarks on an impossible endeavor: a series of experiments designed to teach Lorelei to communicate what she knows. Perhaps behind her wise and earnest eyes lies the key to what really happened to the woman he loved. As Paul's investigation leads him in unexpected and even perilous directions, he revisits the pivotal moments of his life with Lexy, the brilliant, enigmatic woman whose sparkling passion for life and dark, troubled past he embraced equally. (Summary from

My Review: The Dogs of Babel is a haunting tale of newfound love, earth shattering loss, and one man's desperate quest for answers. In alternating chapters, Paul and Lexy's history unfolds from their very first (adorable) meeting to their last day together, and explores the present day, in which Paul copes with his grief as he tries to uncover what might have led to her death.

The author managed to flit back and forth between past and present, weaving a story both beautiful and tragic that deftly propelled the reader forward to that fateful day when the truth about what really happened comes to light. Although I knew from the beginning how it was all going to end, I still loved hearing the narrator, Paul, tell the story of how they met, fell in love, and married. From the moment he stepped out of his car with square eggs I was hooked. However, as Paul continues to tell their story, it becomes clear that his wife is battling some fierce inner demons and from there the story takes a much darker turn. It felt like I was watching two people (and one dog) on a collision course with tragedy and could only sit there silently, helpless to stop it. Not a pleasant feeling, I assure you, but it makes for an interesting story. 

Paul's obsession with solving the mystery of his wife's death was understandable, but I was rather skeptical of his attempts to make her dog, the only witness to her death, speak. The absurdity of the idea, even in the face of overwhelming grief, seemed inconsistent with the grounded nature of the rest of the novel and I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep my disbelieving snorts in check. I did find his efforts with the dog quite painful to read, but ultimately, this book was far less about teaching a dog to talk and more an exploration of the intricacies of relationships, the cruelty of mental illness, the overwhelming nature of grief, and lengths a person will go to uncover the truth.

I probably won't read this book again, but I did think it was brilliantly written and would recommend it to those who don't mind reading about loss.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: If the summary doesn't make it clear, this book could hold triggers for those dealing with suicidal thoughts or the loss of a loved one. Otherwise, there are some cases of extreme animal cruelty, a handful of swear words (a few more if you count references to a female of the canine persuasion) and a few brief, non-graphic sexual situations.

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