Well, what do you expect from a book that describes God's creations as "very cool. They were very cool, but they didn't work" (6.1)?
Even though these are some heavy subjects, Rosoff keeps the tone light—even the most well known books of the Bible become punch lines. Like that rewriting of Genesis:
In the beginning, the earth was without form, and void and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. Only it wasn't very good light. Bob created fireworks, sparklers and neon tubes that circled the globe like weird tangled rainbows. […] Bob thought his creations were very cool. They were very cool, but they didn't work. (6.1)
Rosoff also likes to make tongue-in-cheek jokes, mostly about Bob being God. For example, "Bob had lost interest—he was gazing, fascinated, at the brightly graffitied wall of an old brick warehouse as the felucca drifted slowly past. On it was written: THERE IS NO GOD" (36.37).
LOL, right? See, the person who scrawled this thinks that there's God because of all the horrible weather and suffering that's been going on. But we know that it's all happening because of God/Bob.
Along with all of her comedy, Rosoff sneaks in some seriousness. She's empathetic even to the most horrible of the characters. Even Bob. She writes,
For whole moments at a time, you could almost feel sorry for him. He did look lost. And if (by some quirk of fate) Mr. B happened to be in the mood to notice, he could see the isolation that enveloped Bob like a shroud, and the sadness too. (12.60)
Poor Bob, right? These moments help us see that maybe the story isn't as simple as we first expected it to be. It helps to make even immortal characters more human.
Admit it: the book is funny. That, and the deus ex machine) ending just brought it all together so there was a happy ending with Bob, Estelle, Lucy, and Luke as the perfect couples. That's classic comedy right there.
But it's not just light-hearted fun and games. This is satire—comedy with a bite. Like those jokes about God that happen every other paragraph:
"Your clothes, O Holy Master of All." Mr. B bows and hands him a sweatshirt with a large sporting-goods logo on it, which Bob dutifully pulls over his head. He hasn't changed out of the same T-shirt in what might be a week now. (5.12)
Or this one that riffs on a Bible passage:
And then Bob went on to create every creeping thing, and some that leapt and climbed and slithered and tunneled as well, and he told them to be frantic and multiply, which they did by the most gobsmackingly weird mechanism Mr. B had ever observed, one that slightly embarrassed him as well. (6.14)
Compare that to the original text: "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" (English Standard Version, Genesis 1:28)
What a way to turn the Bible into a sex joke, huh? Making fun of an original work like that makes this totally a parody. Easy peasy.
Young adult novels: aimed at teenagers, staring teenagers, and mostly written by old people. How are they directed at teenagers? Well, think Harry Potter and Twilight: magic, romance, a little sexiness, and intrigue—not to mention plots that deal with your typical growing up stuff, like parents, boyfriends, and mood swings.
Hey look at that, There Is No Dog has all of those! Well, except maybe for the magic.
By the way, it's useful to remember that young adult novels are usually, although not always, a bit less hardcore than their grownup counterparts. That might explain why There Is No Dog tries to keep an upbeat and funny attitude while talking about some pretty deep issues. If this weren't a young adult novel, things might have gotten much, much darker.
It's a joke! You probably figured out sometime in elementary school that "God" spelled backwards is "dog." By playing on that, this title refers to the phrase "there is no God" that appears in graffiti at the end of chapter 26.
But it's not just for the lulz. Here are a few more things to think about:
(1) It's a pretty funny (and no funny ha-ha) title for a book that is totally about God. It's kind of like saying, "There is a God—he's just not very good at it."
(2) There are no dogs in the whole book. Go on, check! There are capybaras, Ecks, and lizards, but no dogs.
(3) Bob is dyslexic, and people with dyslexia sometimes spell words backwards. "In other words, "there is no dog" is something Bob might say about himself.
How do all these add up? The title is just one more way that Rosoff takes what could be a funny and/ or potentially offensive book and asks you to think just a little harder about it.
Lucy's face transforms and lightens, quick as a child's. "Oh, clever you," she cries. For an instant her unhappiness evaporates. It will return, but for now she throws her arms round him, wondering how it is possible that she is doing such a thing. The sun, which has already gilded the edges of the day, seems to settle on the two of them like a kiss.
He pulls free and grabs her hand, his brain struggling to retain the brief imprint of her body on his. He experiences a moment of sudden, glorious clarity and breaks into a trot, pulling her along behind him. By the time they reach the enclosure she is laughing. He does not let go of her hand. And so they stand, while the impossible fish float overhead, gazing at Lucy's capybara and (a little unbelieving) at each other, wondering at the state of miracles.
They are flooded with hope. (48.16)
Ah, what a marvelous happy ending. It may have taken Lucy a while to get there, but her prayers did get answered. She wanted love, and it looks like she may finally have found it. This is a pretty fitting ending, since every other problem has just been fixed up and tied with a bow.
Not only does this give us a nice tidy ending, but it also gives us a new feeling for what the future of Earth without Bob will be. We, like Lucy and Luke, are flooded with hope. We're hopeful that Mr. B and Estelle will be cute together, that Eck will still have his new friend, that Earth will get better, and that real love is possible. Consider our cold hearts warmed.
Most novels have modest settings: London, New York, Paris. Once in a while, they might get ambitious and use a whole country, like America or Australia. There Is No Dog skips right past all of that stuff and moves straight into the big leagues. Earth. Oh, and not just Earth, but Earth as a tiny little speck in the context of the universe. How's them apples, eh?
But that's the thing—by the logic of this novel, Earth actually is a pretty humdrum setting. It's the bottom of the intergalactic ladder of hierarchies, so in the middle of nowhere that we couldn't even get a decent God. As the narrator says, "Earth was badly positioned—miles off the beaten track in a lonely and somewhat run-down part of the universe. At a time of high employment, not many top-level candidates were willing to take on a tiny unproven planet, not to mention the whole creation rigmarole, which, when done properly, could be a real headache" (3.2).
So much for the glorious center of the universe.
Not only is Earth tiny, but the universe is full of planets teeming with creatures that are nothing at all like us. Estelle knows all about them:
She traveled to happy planets, productive planets, gigantic watery planets and tiny dry ones, planets comprised almost exclusively of ice, planets designed by highly intelligent creatures, planets upon which every inhabitant had the imagination of a bath plug or the aesthetic appeal of a pile of dung. Most of the creatures she met could not easily be described in terms an earth human would understand, for, contrary to common understanding, "aliens" did not possess huge eyes and truncated human limbs, but took the form of vapors, shadows or nanoparticles, of fleeting thoughts, absences or false memories. (23.17)
So, maybe all those stories from The X-Files are true? Either way, this is supposed to give us the sense that, not only are we not alone, we're not even special. In fact, we're downright ordinary.
But that's not even the weirdest part of this whole thing. That would have to be the beings like Mona and Emoto Hed who seem to work for a mismanaged bureaucracy that hands out jobs running planets. And they're immortal. Also, they're pretty powerful and scary.
Here's the thing: instead of making us feel insignificant, the problems of these god-beings actually makes our problems feel even bigger. Watching Lucy and Bob's love affair reminds us about the way fate, or God, or Bob throws us around. Seeing Estelle stand up to Emoto Hed suggests that our daddy-daughter issues actually are important. And since most of the Gods are not really nice beings, we paltry humans come off looking pretty good in comparison. Who was rooting for Lucy and Bob to get together? That's right, no one.
And who was sad when Mona got traded away? Yep, same answer.
Let's start with the bad. There is a lot of it. Which makes sense, since you-know-who is God. Things were messed up from the get go. Look at how Mr. B describes it,
And he [Bob] said, 'Let the waters bring forth abundant species of fishlike creatures, and fowl ones too.' And boy, oh boy, did Bob go to town on the creatures. He put spines on some, and strange colors on others; he added feathers and scales, and sometimes feathers and scales; and savage sharp teeth and beady eyes on some, and sweet expressions and razor-sharp claws on others. […] Having neglected to create food for the carnivores, they began to eat one another almost immediately, which disturbed Mr. B and didn't seem to be a temporary aberration but a situation destined to get far, far worse. (6.7)
Mr. B doesn't even know the half of it.
Skip forwards a few millennia, and Mr. B's desk is littered with the problems that he predicted way back in the beginning: "The number of petitions loomed perilously close to infinite; the number of miracles Mr. B could effect, pitifully low. His head hurt. […] Each day, a new crisis, a new massacre, a new threat of extinction, disease, internecine conflict, meteorological catastrophe. Well, what do you expect when you skip through creation in six lousy days?" (17.7)
It was only a short jump from animals that eat each other to humans who kill each other, wasn't it? And Bob's fumbling isn't the only thing wrong on Earth. Turns out that we haven't been taking the best care of the old planet. Even though Mr. B is sympathetic about a lot of things, he's distressed about what we've done with the place:
Mr. B hated so many of man's wondrous creations: engines and mobile phones and fast-food outlets, not to mention knives and jackhammers and garrotes. In the past, he had hated crossbows and armor and coins. Pisspots. And instruments of torture. […] To him these things represented everything sordid and backward about earth. (34.9)
Well, at least our pisspots flush now, right?
Don't get too gloomy—Earth has a good side, too. Even Mr. B admits that, sometimes, Earth isn't half bad. He says,
on this night, it was impossible not to notice that the world was touched with magic. In this moment he felt a suspension of despair, a cease- fire in the world's torment. Stars burned silver in the great black sky, carrying messages to earth from a billion miles away. No horizon split the seamless night. Not a person would petition him to change this moment. It just was, and it was good. (34.19)
We guess Bob got it right for once.
That's the thing. It would be really easy just to say that Bob is a horrible God or that Earth is just skewed, but things are a bit more complicated than that. There are good and bad things about Earth and Bob.
And so, the setting tells us, there are good and bad things about humans. As Mr. B says (are you getting the sense that Mr. B is speaking with Rosoff's voice, too?): "Behold man … On the one hand there was slavery, war, inquisition and ethnic cleansing; on the other, Shakespeare, chocolate, the Taj Mahal. A fine balance" (17.10).
Placing Earth in this delicate balance actually allows Rosoff to let Bob say the smartest thing that he says in the whole novel:
Would it really be better, he wanted to ask, if it were always this nice? Would anyone bother to notice? Or would they simply pass through a night like this, unmoved? And (this was more to the point) if life were without flaws and no one ever changed or died, what role would God have? (34.23)
That's a pretty good question isn't it? Some people might say that Rosoff's book is heretical and blasphemous. But with phrases like this, we're pretty sure There Is No Dog has a lot more on its agenda that just ticking people off.
When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, 'Why God? Why me?' and the thundering voice of God answered, 'There's just something about you that pisses me off.' –Stephen King
Wow, God. Totally not cool. Not cool at all.
This quote from Stephen King's Storm of the Century references the Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. You can probably guess what it's about from the quote, but we'll sum it up for you anyway:
Job was a fine upstanding man, who never did bad stuff, got along with everyone, and loved God. The Devil told God that Job only like God because things were going so well, and God was like, "Oh yeah? Go ahead and destroy his life, and let's see what happens." So the devil killed Job's family, destroyed his home and his farm, took away his money, and gave him several horrible and disfiguring diseases. Job kept on praising God, and finally asked at the end why he had to suffer so much. God's answer is basically, "Because I felt like it."
The thing that's interesting about Stephen King's version is that he takes the Devil out of the equation and implies that God just likes seeing Job suffering. In other words, Job is being tortured by a jerk.
And, that's basically your plot of There Is No Dog. Bob doles out suffering and happiness randomly, whether or not the people are good or pious or whatever. In other words, we can can totally see him saying that to Job. In fact, he probably did.
We know our Shmoopsters are the best and the brightest, so There Is No Dog should be a piece of cake. After all, half of the plot is a love story—not too complicated, right?
The writing isn't going to cause much trouble, either. Like this, from right near the beginning of the book:
The sun spreads warm and golden on Lucy's face and arms. Pale new leaves unfurl so fast she can almost hear the little sighs they make as they open. (1.2)
Okay, so it's a little gushy, but it's pretty straightforward. What bumps the story up to a 3 is its heavy reliance on the Bible, Christian history, and Greco-Roman mythology. When Rosoff parodies Genesis or Bob is described as seducing a girl in the shape of a swan, it helps to know the original reference—although it's not necessary.
Still, it's always more fun to be in on the joke. And, since we always want you to have fun, we've included a bunch of references for you in our "Shout-Outs" so you won't miss a single thing.
This book may deal with some of the biggest, hardest questions in, well, the known universe, but Rosoff makes it pretty easy on us. Check it out: "The hill is steep and he begins to run. She stops when he says her name. He leans on her shoulder for a second to get his breath back" (48.4). She's usually a bit friendlier with commas, but you get the idea. Simple language for big ideas is a good idea because it helps us not be confused by the million and one things that are going on.
Then on top of the simple language, Rosoff paints pictures for us that are so descriptive that we have no problem at all playing the scenes out in our heads like movies. This scene with Mr. B on Earth is a good example:
As he paddled steadily through the outskirts of the city, the artificial light slipped away and, with it, the trapped-fly buzz of humanity. He stopped for a moment, drifting in silence through the drizzle. The moon had just begun to rise, a great orange disc, majestic and strange. Little boats manned by dark silhouettes bobbed in the floodwater; soft voices came to him across the land that was no longer land. Mr. B sat motionless, mesmerized by the tiny percussion of raindrops, plinketytink, like plucked strings. A path of silver moonbeam crossed the floodwater toward him and he slipped into it, shifting his paddle so that he drifted along its length. He felt he might follow it forever. (34.16)
Well played, Rosoff. Not only is this really beautiful writing, but it's so descriptive that we can just hear the "plinkeytink" of the raindrops and feel the soft calm of Mr. B floating on the water. Gorgeous, sensory details like this ground the book, so what seems totally crazy—a horny teenage God—ends up feeling, well, kind of real.
Hope you brought your umbrellas. During Creation, Bob linked the weather to his feelings so that it would rain when he was sad and storm when he was angry, and so on. Obviously, not such a great idea, as anyone who's lived through a hurricane, blizzard, drought, or, really anything but a perfect 78 degree summer day could tell you.
See, Bob has a thing for human women. And when he falls in love, the weather (just like his emotions) goes crazy. Told you he was a typical 19-year-old boy. Check out what happens when he meets Lucy for the first time:
The temperature rose ten degrees throughout the zoo and tulip buds burst open with little muted pops, spreading instantly into full flower … Behind her, twenty-eight rainbows spread silently across the sky like oil in a puddle. (13.34, 49)
Not so bad, right?
Well, it's only just beginning. As their relationship progresses, everything gets worse. Only a few weeks later, the weather forecast isn't looking too great: "Newspapers reported the worst spring weather in the history of spring weather. The rain seemed to have developed a personality of its own—sharp and vindictive one minute, heavy and morose the next. So peevish was the mood that it might have been programmed by some gigantic, love-struck, miserable, sulking teenager. Which, of course, it was" ( 21.1). Not so great anymore, huh?
When the weather starts clearing up after Bob and Lucy have sex, it's basically a sign for us that he has completely forgotten about her—because otherwise the weather would still be terrible. Since we can gauge Bob's emotions (which he otherwise doesn't really talk about) via the weather, it's pretty helpful. It is also a constant reminder of how selfish he is, since his emotional roller coasters result in people dying and massive natural disasters that take over whole cities.
You know how they say that Mother Nature is a fickle mistress? Yeah. Try "Bob is a fickle master." The weather is a symbol of how weird, arbitrary, and incomprehensible the world is—because it has a weird, arbitrary, and incomprehensible God.
The whales are Mr. B's babies. Bob let him create exactly one species, and, well, we think he did a pretty good job:
B began to picture a race of majestic sleek creatures with gently smiling faces and powerful tails that swept through the seas at wondrous speeds—yet breathed air and gave birth to live young. They lived underwater, but were not alien and cold-blooded like fish, and their voices were eloquent and haunting. And so he created the great whales, which even Bob had to admit were pretty nice. […] "How beautiful you are," he whispered to them, and they smiled back at him with their subtle smiles, happy to be admired. (6.11)
Mr. B is like a proud papa who is happy to see his babies growing up. That's why it's such a bummer to see them in danger—and a clue to who's really in charge around here. The whales are a symbol of Mr. B himself: powerful and majestic, but also subtle. Whales aren't in your face like lions or elephants. They stay hidden underwater, only occasionally surfacing to show off their awesomeness.
Unfortunately, the whales aren't just symbols of how Mr. B should really have been God. They're also a symbol of just how messed up the world is. Because Earth is messed up. Like, really messed up. Who thought it was a good idea for animals to eat each other? That's right, Bob. Earth was messed up from the very first time that a lion ate an antelope, and it's only gotten worse.
We're pretty used to hearing arguments about suffering and recycling, but instead of focusing on those arguments Rosoff puts whales at the center of these problems. Whenever Mr. B thinks about suffering, he thinks about his whales. Like here, when he just finished thinking about an Indian boy who might die:
Moving the Indian boy's file caused the whales' to slither out of the heap and onto the floor at his feet. In his head, Mr. B heard their desperate voices. Ninety-foot baleen whales had been sighted in unfeasibly warm seas, searching for krill that were searching for phytoplankton. Others turned up gasping on beaches, their sonar confused by hunger and illness and noise. (28.20)
But, by the end of the novel the whales have transformed from a symbol of despair to a symbol of hope. After all, the whales are the only creatures on Earth who know that there is someone up there that they can count on. As Mr. B says"
They were the only species with the intelligence to contact him directly, bypassing not only human intervention, but also Bob, for they (quite sensibly) did not believe in him. Their keen brains and their beauty touched him almost as deeply as their faith in his power to save them. (28.23)
In the last few chapters their faith is rewarded because they are saved:
The sky is crowded now, the faces of observers transfigured with ecstasy and fear. Mr. B feels as if he has returned to the enchantment of that first time, when Bob created all that the waters brought forth abundantly. Only this time, they are brought forth abundantly into the sky. Wherever the great whales have struggled against annihilation, they rise. They frolic in the sky. (46.21)
It's pretty majestic. And here's the cool thing: we're like Bob, right? Because he made us like him. Now, we can't make the whales fly—but maybe we can save them in a different way. Just Bob, we have the capacity for miraculous, goofily wondrous acts.
(Shh, no one mention air pollution.)
We know everything that is going on There Is No Dog. There are no secrets, because we can hear everyone's thoughts, see what everyone is doing, and even go into the past! It's like a time machine that's also an omniscience (all-knowing) machine. And so, it's the perfect POV for a book about God because it lets us see everything as if we were God.
Actually, we're pretty sure that Bob can't read Mona's thoughts, so we get to see everything happening from a level above the Gods in this story. Isn't that cool? Now if only we could figure out how to get the weather to react to our emotions…
There is a lot of confusion going on here. Bob thinks that he is in love with Lucy, even though she is a mortal and he's just horny. Mr. B has no idea what he's supposed to be doing, really, or how he's going to get out of this dead end job. Eck thinks he is worthless. Mona doesn't get her role as a mom, and Estelle realizes that her life has had no purpose. Whew. Hope things get cleared up soon.
Not yet: thing don't get better, only worse as the whole Bob + Lucy love affair continues and everyone else's lives get thrown into disarray. Sure, it might start off as just a little bit of rain, but soon Bob's emotional whirlwind turns into literal whirlwinds, as the weather goes haywire during his courtship of Lucy. She gets more and more confused about who Bob is. Mr. B's resignation makes him even more confused about his feelings for the Earth. Estelle travels to figure out her purpose, and Eck is even sadder about his state of affairs. This is terrible!
When Bob and Lucy split up, everyone else seems to realize their true roles and relationships at the exact same time. Let's check out the revelations:
(1) Lucy realizes she's been dating God, and breaks up with him stat.
(2) Bob realizes that he and Lucy can't actually be together forever.
(3) Mr. B realizes that he's the real God around these parts.
(4) Mr. Emoto Hed realizes that he'd just as well take Mona as Eck.
(5) Estelle realizes that her purpose is to be there for Eck and Earth and maybe even Mr. B.
Let's set the scene for you. Hot blonde, Lucy, who wants to be in love. Lazy, lecherous, idiotic, teenage God, Bob. He wants to have sex with the hot blonde. Lucy's mom wants her to get a boyfriend, since she's a virgin and we guess too old at 21? Someone hasn't seen The 40 Year Old Virgin.
But Lucy is too busy loving life to care too much. Oh, except for one thing: she's got a mean boss, Luke, who doesn't like her because she's pretty. That's it. Oh, and we also meet all of the main characters. Yay! We're all set up to see the rest of the story now, and since we've got gods and weird penguin-anteater hybrids, it's probably going to be a good one.
Now things start getting difficult. After all that lovey romance stuff, we learn there are some problems in Bob's paradise.
For one, the whales are in danger. Bob's right hand man, Mr. B loves those whales, so he's got to save them. Also Bob's pet, Eck, is traded off to a mean and powerful being, Emoto Hed, to be eaten. Not so great. Not to mention that when Bob is in love, the weather on Earth goes nuts. The moment he meets Lucy, it starts hailing and storming. The city floods, the zoo is in a panic, and everyone is going crazy. Guess what? There's only one way to end it.
Everything comes to a head in this section. The weather gets even worse during Bob and Lucy's (brief) courtship. Bob wants to get married Lucy, even though her mom won't give away her hand in marriage. Estelle, Emoto Hed's daughter, has hatched a plan to save Earth and Eck at the same time.
Meanwhile, Luke (the mean boss) starts hitting on Lucy, so she has second thoughts about Bob. But never mind that, they get engaged and have amazing sex! Fortunately for Earth, this calms the weather down. Unfortunately for them, Bob's mom Mona decides to be a real mom just about now and says that Bob can't see Lucy anymore.
Things don't go so well for the gang after that dramatic climax. Eck's still going to die, and Estelle takes him away. No pet for Bob. Also, Bob is going crazy trying to figure out how save the whales, which Mr. B is making him do before he'll help out with the whole marrying Lucy thing.
Bob isn't helping matters with Lucy, either. She comes to see Bob when he's all God-ed out, and she suspects that he's not exactly who he said he was. It gets even worse when Bob decides to visit her, because he freaks her out by teleporting into her locked house. So, yeah, he and Lucy are splitsville, Eck's about to be eaten, and nothing is going according to plan—at least, not any plan that we know about. Seems like it's about time to wrap things up.
This section goes by in a flash. Hed agrees to take Mona instead of Eck (although hopefully he's not going to roast her up with some peppercorn sauce); Bob finally saves the whales (we guess) by making them fly; Bob, not Mr. B, is the one being transferred—and, finally, Mr. B is the new God.
Looking good, but there's just one more thing. Lucy and Luke sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g.
Lucy wants to be in love, and God (aka Bob) is happy to oblige. Even though he is a lazy good-for-nothing, Bob knows how to seduce a lady. (Not to mention, turn into a giant, rapist animal if she doesn't give in.) There are two more major decisions in the first act: (1) Mr. B decides to resign and to save his whales; (2) Estelle decides to save the taste and last-of-his-kind Eck after he gets gambled away to her hungry dad.
All the balls are in the air. Bob and Lucy are dating, but they still haven't had sex. She's starting to worry that he's a little crazy. Earth is being totally flooded, because the weather is tied to Bob's moods. Estelle managed to get Eck six weeks to live, but he's still going to get eaten. And Mr. B's whales are still totally done for.
Welcome to the final act. Bob has sex with Lucy, so the flooding is over but he totally ignores her afterwards. The moms get involved, and neither one wants her kid dating the other one (rightly, we might add). Bob does a crazy fix for the whales, making them fly; and, of course, Lucy ends up finding love with Luke, the guy who was mean to her. (Girls, right? They never want the nice guy.) Oh, and Bob gets transferred to a new assignment, leaving Mr. B and Estelle to watch out for Earth.
Well, that pretty much ended exactly the way we'd want it to.