Diego Marani, 'God's Dog'

· Wednesday January 15, 2014

Beyond the immediate palindromic title, Diego Marani's new novel indeed explores the bond between the Catholic Church and one of its designated guard dogs, secret papal policeman Domingo Salazar. Only this isn't the Catholic Church as we know it: it's a grotesque version set in a near future in which the Vatican rules Italy as a menacing theocracy that harshly enforces its draconian laws.

It may be a distorted mirror that the Italian novelist holds up, but the image isn't so far-fetched. Marani merely imagines the Church's current influence exaggerated in coming years, and thus a Vatican warring with outlaw sects of abortionists and euthanasists. He toys with our allegiances by making sure we don't support either side's methods completely. Here both the state and enemies of the state resort to terrorism, although the state is much more covert.

Marani spends the first half of the book chewing on these ideas, especially the hot-button issue of euthanasia. Despite the black humour and prickly terrain, it's slow going as we gradually learn how Salazar's own beliefs defy the very master he serves. But then the action turns swift and suspenseful, adopting the familiar mechanics of a thriller. It ends sharply, although the final third suffers from many overlapping threads and unannounced shifts in perspective.

Translated by Judith Landry – who won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize for her translation of Marani's New Finnish GrammarGod's Dog takes countless shots at Pope Benedict XVIII and at the Church as a whole, but ultimately it's about the folly of dogma and how it keeps us from helping our fellow man.