Matt Haig's novel The Last Family In England

The Last Family in England – Matt Haig – [Book Review]

Labrador Prince struggles to keep his human family safe
Bought in Pai, Thailand

I found The Last Family in England in a bookshop in Thailand and bought it for my girlfriend. She’d loved The Humans, also by Matt Haig, but had lost it in a hotel somewhere before finishing it, so I figured this would plug the gap until I bought another copy (yeah, you’re welcome, Haig, you’re welcome).

But, before she could glance at it, I thought I’d take a look.

I read it in two days.

That’s not to say I’m a fast reader. This book is written from the perspective of a black Labrador, and hence, sentence structure is simple and concise. I like that – good narrator/prose affinity.

It’s a stylistic choice that works, though the ludicrously short chapters can be a bit peculiar, each one named after a single word in lowercase that appears in those pages. Titles include (in no particular order): toilet; problem; bush; horlicks (an uncapped brand name… mustsuppress sub-editing).

I like the way they reflect the narrator’s short attention span, which is a cute formatting idea. For instance, here’s one chapter – entitled “sound” – copied out ad verbum:

There was a sound.

What a page-turner! And I mean that in the sense that, There aren’t any more words on this page! I think I’ll turn it!

I’m not big on dogs, generally speaking, but I liked the energetic tempo and the ardent empathy that runs throughout. It’s chipper – like a proper Lab.

The story itself is a neat family drama, with an animal twist. The narrator is a Labrador called Prince, who has sworn to uphold the Labrador’s code – to keep the family safe. He has rejected the Springer rebellion against their human masters and will do everything in his power to keep the family unit safe.

There’s a nice amount of deluded unreliable narration in what Prince believes he can affect with the meagre tools at his disposal:

  • wag tail faster;
  • bark at sounds;
  • roll on back for belly-scratch;

It draws you in, both with a sense of pity at his naivety, but also with hope that maybe he’ll miraculously save the day regardless.

Barking mad

I’ve read some reviews online that panned the book for its ending – but it’s nothing more than realistic. Nevertheless, Haig’s been rather hard done by on Goodreads, receiving one- and two-star reviews from people who just want little fluffy clouds and puppies rolling on daisies and the face of the sun with a giant baby in it.

This book is about adultery and suicide and murder and duty and shame. In other words: the good stuff (dramatically speaking).

What irks me further is, those same naysayers had read the beginning (which starts chronologically at the end and then tells the story of how we came to be there), and skipped straight to the back to see how it concludes! – and then threw the book away without finishing the middle! – You can’t do that! You can’t do that and then judge the author on the story. You’ve no right, sonny Jim!

Shame on them, that’s what I say. Shame. On. Them. I don’t even know how they do it… I get miffed if my eyes accidentally read the last line of the chapter I’m on before I get to it, spoiling the twist, even if I know exactly what it’s going to be. I even place my thumb over the last line to avoid that happening!

How can you skip to the ending?! How can you sleep at night?!

Frankly, I don’t have a bad word to say about The Last Family in England. There’s some excellent observations on human behaviour, brought to life by an outside perspective; there’s a dog-murder mystery, with a nasty twist; and there’s some difficult issues handled with subtlety and care.

I’m going to send it to a friend of mine who owns a black Lab, see if they get even more from it than I did. In the meantime, I’m off to buy another copy of The Humans (yeah, no worries Haig, I got this).

Have you read any Haig? What do you think of his writing style?

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