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March 6, 2008

Book Notes - Matt Haig ("The Labrador Pact")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I was about three pages into Matt Haig's debut novel, The Labrador Pact, when I realized I had already read the book. After we adopted our puppy Lily last year I devoured as many dog-related books as possible, and a friend living in the UK passed along a copy of Haig's The Last Family in England. I was impressed by the narrative told in the voice of the dog, as well as the social criticism in the book. The Last Family in England was published this year as The Labrador Pact in the United States.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"There's reason to wonder if the traditional realist novel has worn itself out. Certainly, several respected novelists (Michael Chabon, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood) have recently abandoned the form in favor of speculative fictions of various kinds. But The Labrador Pact is not in this class. As Haig pushes beyond the usually somber boundaries of Urban Dysfunctional Fiction, maybe we should just enjoy his novel for what it is: a wry, serio-comic family tail, er, tale, for our serio-comic times."


In his own words, here is Matt Haig's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, The Labrador Pact:


The Labrador Pact was the first novel I wrote but it has been published as my second in the US, and probably wouldn’t have been published at all if the movie option hadn’t been bought (Mr Pitt, thank you). It tends to be a difficult concept for people to get their head around. A dark study of family breakdown narrated by a Labrador? But I’m interested in the tug-of-war between our animal instincts and how much we have to repress them to have a functioning civilisation and a neutered Labrador, as the canine narrator puts it, symbolises the ‘rope’ in that tug-of-war. Like most egotistical, self-absorbed writers I have fantasised about what soundtrack to the book, or the movie to the book, might have. So indulge me:


Big Time Sensuality – Bjork

This should be the Springer Spaniel’s anthem. They’re the hedonists of the novel. The debauched ‘sniffaholics’ who love corrupting Labradors. I think this song, with its euphoric rave-era rhythms and triumphant keyboards, plus Bjork’s vocals bursting with insane live-for-the-moment happiness, is what Springer Spaniels play in their heads all the time.


Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Labradors are one tribe, who hold dear to their belief in keeping their human families safe, while the other dogs, led by the Springer Spaniels, are a tribe devoted to pleasure. I can see this played over a park scene when the Labradors encounter the Red Setters.


One Minute Man – Missy Elliot

There is a direct reference to Missy Elliot in the book, when seventeen-year-old Hal is watching one of her videos and his quietly racist grandmother is laughing at the ‘shouting, colored man’ on TV.


There She Goes – The La’s

Because it is the best pop song ever written, and would be perfect for middle-aged Adam when he’s fantasising about fellow dog-walker, the sexy young aromatherapist Emily.


Standing in the Way of Control – The Gossip

The perfect teenage party song for, erm, the teenage party chapter. It’s where Prince ends up on the wrong end of someone’s idea to get the Labrador stoned.


The Hounds of Love – Kate Bush

Actually, Kate Bush could do the entire soundtrack as her music is pretty much always animalistic and wild and sensuous and none more so than this canine-themed classic.


U Sexy MF – Prince

For some comedy, when Prince (the Labrador, not his purple highness) remembers his old lust for cushions and human legs.


Close to You – The Cure

Robert Smith is, like Kate Bush, a rather comically canine type of singer. On Close to You he actually breaths out and goes for full-on panting, which would be great for the scene where Prince watches in horror as his master gets dirty with Emily in the park.


A Dog’s Life – The Eels

A B-side that should have been an A-side. ‘I’ll take a dog’s life/Just lying in the sun/I’ll take a dog’s life/’cause I don’t care for this one.’ Ironic, of course, from a Labrador’s perspective, but kind of sums up the human perception of what being a dog might be like.


Suburbia – The Pet Shop Boys

‘Let’s take a ride and run with the dogs tonight…’ Brilliant song from the most underrated lyricists of the 80s which captures the suburban heart of the novel.


Matt Haig and The Labrador Pact links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's MySpace page
the book's website
an excerpt from the book
audio excerpt from the book (mp3 link)

The Age review
BBC Collective review
The Charlie Williams Blog review
Washington Post review

the author's posts at the Penguin blog
the author's top 10 novels influenced by Shakespeare


also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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