The International Writers Magazine

Last Family In England by Matt Haig
(Vintage Random House £6.99)
Lynn Ede August 2005
Paperback 352 pages
ISBN: 009946845X


Prince is attractive, funny, sincere, loyal, offering unconditional love. He’s also a dog. A Labrador to be exact.

Leeds author Matt Haig writes the dog into the Hunter family to whom Prince pledges undying allegiance, as set down by The Pact; a set of rules to which all Labradors must adhere and which aim to protect The Family at all costs. Haig has penned a more clever tale than might first appear, narrated by the protagonist canine himself, in which much literary reference is to be found – "Humans fuck you up," said Falstaff, a Springer Spaniel, "they may not mean to, but they do." Phillip Larkin and Shakespeare thread their way through this different and thought-provoking novel which shows a serious theme in the decline of the British family at the same time an insight to the possible psyche of the dog.

Prince observes with growing alarm his family’s gradual downfall from the privileged but frustrating position of most family dogs, whose lives consist of laying by the fire listening to the familial fun and fights around them of the humans unaware of their deep intelligence. Touching and laugh-out-loud in turn, the story sees teenagers’ wild drug-filled parties through the floor-level viewpoint of Prince, illicit affairs and flirtations of the Father and Mother, even murders which the poor Labrador seems powerless to prevent. However, running parallel to the human scene is the canine community centred around the local park. Here we meet delightful and dangerous breeds represented in the characters of the old Labrador guru Henry and Irish Wolfhound Joyce who discuss each others’ problems and what guidance The Pact might offer to Prince, who is determined to save the plight of his Family.
It’s quite a feat, that Haig has managed, to encapsulate so accurately the traits and humour in the escapades of each breed as they, according to The Pact, must avoid ‘sniffing for pleasure’ and who dig the dirt beyond all reasonable restraint for debris left by humans who come into the park at night to ‘drink and smoke and fuck and eat and drug and puke’.

Interpret as much as you want to between the lines of this excellent book, suitable for adults and teenagers alike, it’s a compelling read, a must on your shopping list.

© Lynn Ede
Freelance Journalist & Illustrator
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