The Hunters are your typical family, with typical concerns -- work, love, the trials of adolescence -- with one difference: they are protected by an unusual dog, their black Labrador, Prince. Bound by an ancient pact, Prince views it as his duty to protect his family and guard its integrity -- but what is he to do when the Hunters' worst enemies are themselves?
~ from back cover
No lie, I was initially drawn to this book simply because I have a black Lab myself. But I guess the reason why you pick up a book isn't so important, as long as you're picking one up at all, right? :-)
I have a number of Haig's books on my shelves but this is only the second one I've tackled -- the first being The Dead Father's Club (a sort of modern day re-imagining of William Shakespeare's Hamlet). I came across some nods to Shakespeare's King Lear in Labrador Pact, so maybe this is a signature of his writing style? I like it! Fair warning with this book though, it's a bit of a heartbreaker for animal lovers.
The novel is actually told from the point of view of the black Lab, "Prince". Not only that but the reader has the right-off-the-bat gut punch of the story opening with Prince at the vet's office looking at possibly having to be put down for something behavior-related. We don't get all the info at once, Haig is pretty skilled at letting out the facts at a drip-drop pace right up to the very end. Prince tells his story bit by bit ... and it is one craaazy story. All the layers! Like an onion. Or a parfait ;-)
above: This is an entire chapter on page 34 (paperback edition). I found myself pretty amused by this ^^
Prince mainly makes all decisions based on The Pact, a code Labradors follow that says Protect the family, above all else, put their needs before your own. Those who follow The Pact receive the "eternal reward" after death. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Prince has been stigmatized within the dog community for being the dog that broke The Pact after all these years. But like I said, the details of that story are spread out up to the last chapter. Kinda funny though, the other dogs (the non-Labradors) gave up following The Pact generations ago, finding it was much more fun to live for oneself, but they have no problem ripping on Prince for breaking a pact they don't even live by themselves!
When it comes to learning the ways of The Pact, Prince has a mentor in retired cop dog Labrador Henry.Their conversations at the dog park are training sessions as well as an opportunity for Henry to pass on his legacy of wisdom. Henry believes that the human race is in peril because more and more people choose are choosing cats over dogs, so there are fewer dog lovers around to adopt the Labradors, who can in turn keep their humans safe. When things go to pot with humans, the humans blame themselves or each other, but the Labradors take the blame full on themselves, a sign that they failed their humans. The Pact is needed to battle the Springer Uprising, where Springer Spaniels are going around encouraging all dogs to live for themselves and pleasure, abandon the pact. The one exception to this canine turf war are the Rottweilers, the dog equivalent of nihilists (at least within this story).
I don't know what an Old People's Home is like but if it is anything like a Dog's Home I can see why Kate objected. Grandma Margaret never would have been able to fit into one of those cages.
above: just one of the many written out Pact sub-sections included in the novel.
This was one of those books I ended up having such confused feelings about. I thought I was getting a cute story about a loyal Labrador, which it was... in the beginning... but man, did it get dark. Still funny scenes, even with the dark... but still. Being a Lab owner myself, there were parts that I completely understood and smiled to, other scenes made me so upset and / or angry -- to the point where I was questioning whether I was actually fully enjoying the book. I think in the end I did really enjoy it, I think I was just confusing discomfort for dislike which are not necessarily synonymous feelings. Either way, I can't deny that Haig has a gripping writing style that insists the reader FEEL something or GTFO.
I had a feeling of complete powerlessness. There was absolutely nothing I could do to amend the situation, or even make them feel better. The Pact does not equip you for those moments. The moments when pain is present without danger... I felt confused, sure, and wanted to make things better. There was no disloyalty though. I was still learning; there were things I didn't know. I didn't fully understand the nature of pain, that as well as tearing Families apart it could also bring them closer together.
If you want to get extra deep with this one, you could also argue that one could read this as a kind of metaphor for people who choose to live by a certain code or principle system and how, even solid in their convictions, they can feel overrun by the lemming mentality of the mass population, that population's insatiable hunt for consequence-free pleasures. Stuff of myth & legend, a life of choices with no consequences or repercussions! And Prince's struggles broke me, the way he honestly wants to live by what he feels in his soul is right, yet he's still condemned for it. Ugh, this one was SO GOOD but CUT SO BAD! Yes, be ready to see much more Haig books discussed here in the future!
He was probably working out what all this meant. How he was meant to act. Or, maybe, he was starting to come round to my way of thinking. That speaking isn't always very helpful. That sometimes you need the silence if things are ever going to mend. Or be retrieved.