The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Published: 7 August 2012 by Knopf
Pages: 416 (paperback)
Source: Own library
Hig, bereaved and traumatised after global disaster, has three things to live for - his dog Jasper, his aggressive but helpful neighbour, and his Cessna aeroplane. He's just about surviving, so long as he only takes his beloved plane for short journeys, and saves his remaining fuel. But, just once, he picks up a message from another pilot, and eventually the temptation to find out who else is still alive becomes irresistible. So he takes his plane over the horizon, knowing that he won't have enough fuel to get back. What follows is scarier and more life-affirming than he could have imagined. And his story, THE DOG STARS, is a book unlike any you have ever read.
The Dog Stars came recommended to me by several apocalyptic-story loving friends, and after having it on my wishlist for more than a year, I thought it was time I read it for myself.
At times it feels like The Dog Stars is trying to be TOO clever - it's certainly haunting and written in a unique way, but at times I felt so removed from what was actually happening it was difficult to pull myself back into the story. The sentences are written in short bursts and the dialogue doesn't have quotation marks, which made it difficult for me to discern at times exactly who was speaking. There is a reason given why Hig speaks in such short sentences, and at times it does make the story more haunting, but it also took quite a while for me to get used to.
The characters are fairly engaging, but I found it difficult at times to understand and rationalise Hig's motivation for what he was doing and there is a fair whack of descriptions and dialogue about fishing and flying, although they were both presented in simplistic yet interesting ways. Normally when a book has characters that have interests that are really far removed from my own I find it difficult to care, but there was no skimming over lengthy descriptions because they are actually in short bursts, so there is a positive to the short sentences.
His neighbour was a bit of an enigma - it was hard to understand his motivation as Hig didn't really go into any great depth as to how they came together other than running through the basics, and I would have liked to know more about him. But their relationship dynamic was certainly interesting, and really made me think about how people that can be so different can work together in extreme circumstances.
As to the plot, it's pretty much what it says on the tin - Hig has freedom because of his plane, and he uses that to his advantage to scout the surrounding area and to go on his journey to find the other pilot that he hears, but although it doesn't move with a breakneck pace, it was interesting enough to keep me engaged and reading.
The Dog Stars is a book I'm glad to have read, but for me it wasn't anything very unique, other than the interests of the main character and the style took a bit of getting used to, but by the end I had come to appreciate the way that Heller had written it. It's not the best post-apocalyptic book I've ever read, but it kept my attention and gave me some interesting food for thought.