Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Book 32 of 2014: The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

I've had a copy of The Plague Dogs on my bookcase for what seems like forever. I inherited a copy of Watership Down from my great uncle when my family were clearing his house and only read it for the first time in 2013. Having it on my bookcase, when I saw The Plague Dogs in a charity shop, I picked it up intending to read it as well.

And didn't, until the middle of August last year.

The Plague Dogs tells the story of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who are housed in an animal testing facility in the Lake District. They undergo horrible tests; Rowf is repeatedly almost drowned, while Snitter has had operations on his brain which changes the way he senses and experiences the world. Eventually they escape and so a dog-hunt begins across the countryside, fuelled by rumours that the animals are carrying the plague.

I was expecting this book to be a lot more serious than it actually was. Given the subject matter, and my experience with Watership Down, I was surprised by how tongue-in-cheek bits of it were. When I first saw the name of the laboratory facility, whose acronym is A.R.S.E., I wondered whether that was an unfortunate accident. As I read on I realised that it really wasn't.

You get the sense that Adams was obviously very well-read. There are loads of obscure literary references, I'm sure that there were plenty that I missed, but each one that I spotted made me feel like I was sharing a little in-joke with the author. I especially appreciated the reference to The Lord of the Rings.

At one point Adams actually references himself and Watership Down. I wasn't sure whether to find that funny or whether he was being a bit conceited, I'm inclined to think it was the former, given the overall tone of the rest of the book. Vast chunks of the book were kind of an author soapbox for Adams to air his views on animal testing, but because you had the views of the scientists, the reporter, and the animals themselves, it was fairly balanced.

Personally I preferred the bits about the people, like Dr. Boycott, Powell and Digby Driver. At the start I didn't enjoy the bits told from the perspective of the dogs, particularly Snitter's bits. Due to the brain damage (or alterations) he has gone through it makes for difficult reading as his senses overrule one another and make it a little tricky to follow what is going on at times.

I did find the ending a wee bit contrived and I know that the film version is different/ambiguous/sadder. I've not seen it, but from what I've read, the film version is probably more likely to be the way that actual scenario would end. But as the sort of person who cries when bad things happen to animals, I preferred the book ending to the alternative.


  1. Ooh. I love Watership Down but this was really kills me. Toooooo sad, especially that film :(

    1. I really struggle with media where bad things happen to dogs, so I think that's part of the reason why I took a while to read this. Part of me wants to see the film, but on the other hand, it will almost certainly make me cry.


Let me know what you think. :-)