An eclectic, emotional, heartfelt & amazingly down-to-earth novel, When Mr Dog Bites was recommended to me by Phil “Being Billy” Earle, & it’s very much a close to home examination of mental health, managing to view it with a sense of wit, humour & gentle understanding.
Dylan Mint is dying. He knows it. See, he overheard the doctor telling his Mum that something would be happening in a few months time, and what else could it be? He’s going to cack it – His Tourette’s is finally going to fry his brain & leave him six feet under. But rather than be scared, he makes a list of things he wants to do before he cacks it. It’s not a particularly long list, but it sure will be problematic:
Number One: Have real sexual intercourse with a girl (preferably Michelle Malloy and definitely NOT on a train or any other mode of transport …if it’s possible at her house).
Number Two: Fight heaven and earth, tooth and nail, dungeons and dragons that people stop slagging my mate Amir because he smells like a big pot of curry. And, help him find a new best bud.
Number Three: Get dad back from the war before …you-know-what …happens.
Armed with his list, his best bud Amir & his unique outlook on the world, Dylan sets out to take Scotland, if not the WORLD & make it his own… But in doing so, he soon starts to find out the world isn’t quite how he thought – And nor are the people in it.
When Mr Dog Bites is an emotional rollercoaster, dealing with some really tense, heart-tugging issues but in a strangely light-hearted way that keeps it from being the wrong side of dark & emotionally draining. Dylan is a powerfully complex character, whose outlook on the world around him is a disjointed, but also brutally honest & full of sharp, clever use of slang & language that makes his dialogue practically sing across the page, like reading some strange, stream of consciousness poetry. Despite this though, he can be sweet & naive, & although he thinks of himself as the big man, he’s really a scared, lost young teenager thrown into a scenario he can’t understand. The way his inner monologue is written, with sudden jumps & font size changes, really brings his Tourette’s to the front of his thought process, & helps the reader to lock in with the way his brain works when it’s in overdrive. It also allows the author to emphasise the emotional impact of certain sections of the story, & that helps make us sympathise with Dylan’s pain & distress. Amir is another complex character, timid & passionate, caring & sensitive all at the same time & Michelle Malloy is a layered, unusual girl too – She starts out brilliantly spiky, but soon blossoms into a defensive but soft character, who is slow to trust, but fiercely loyal to those she does. I think one of the stand out characters in the novel though, is Tony the Taxi Driver, an old school friend of Dylan’s mum, & someone Dylan is instantly hostile towards – as he sees him stepping on his dad’s territory. However, despite the tirade of abuse he receives at young Dylan’s hands, Tony remains understanding, upbeat & resolute, which casts him as a real hero with no end of patience. Ultimately, he’s exactly the sort of guiding light Dylan needs.
Like I said earlier, the style of writing in When Mr Dog Bites is an odd mix of sudden, jarring font changes & spacing, all designed to simulate the racing mind of its Tourette’s suffering narrator. It actually makes it easier to read though, I found – A lot of Dylan’s manic outbursts would lose their impact if they were just committed to the page as any other dialogue. The way Mental Health is handled is understanding, but also bleakly honest, & it shows the darkness you would expect, but it also doesn’t why away from the humour that comes along with it. Also, Brian Conaghan weaves in the personality of a hormonal teenage boy to make Dylan an even bigger, excitable rocket of emotions, & creating a hilarious & relatable character, who never feels larger than life no matter how ridiculous his behaviour might be. On top of all that though, this novel is touching, sweet & a coming of age without the sentimental “You Can Change the World” attitude. Dylan’s life starts to gradually unravel as the book progresses, & the way his family & friends crowd round him in support is incredibly heart warming, especially given some of the outbursts & mood swings he exhibits towards them. The ultimate revelation & final letter to his father away at war, is heartbreakingly mature & inspiringly bold – Which sums up this books perfectly.
Intelligent, soft & gentle, but equally harsh & abrasive, When Mr Dog Bites is as complex as its characters, & is a joy to read every step of the way.
Hope you’ve enjoyed!
P.S. Obviously, language is an issue with this one, & some of it is very strong – I’d recommend for 16 upwards.