Tomorrow, by Damian Dibben
This is a book narrated, unusually [but probably not uniquely], by a dog: specifically, the eponymous dog of the book’s title. It might seem like an unusual name for a dog, but it is very significant for the dog’s owner, Valentyne, and the book’s premise is depicted quite clearly on its cover, with a handsome & intelligent looking dog lower centre, and surrounded by images suggesting his & his owner’s travels, and a pocket watch to signify the passage of time: a lot of it, in fact, and this is also suggested by a broad ribbon which crisscrosses the cover from top to bottom, whose colour progresses from pale at the top, to dark at the bottom. Valentyne is immortal; so is Tomorrow; but they are no super-heroes: Valentyne discovered a method whereby a fluid carefully & painstakingly distilled from a rare mineral could be injected into a specific place in the body, and repeated several times, until a living stone grows to cease the ageing process, so he bestowed this gift upon his beloved companion, as well as himself. This being the case, they have lived several lives [Tomorrow arguably many more], Valentine’s including physician, philosopher & soldier.
Valentyne is imbued, perhaps as a result of his immortality [which can only be terminated similarly to the premise of the Highlander stories, by hanging or decapitation], with a seemingly insatiable wanderlust, which takes him from his home, of which he never speaks to Tomorrow, to Venice, London, and Denmark: specifically, Elsinore Palace, in 1602, by which time he is already over a hundred years old. Unfortunately, he has a nemesis whose name, we learn, is Vilder, and the peripatetic pair seem to be forever trying to stay at least one step ahead of him, for reasons which are not, initially, specified; although, when they do happen to meet, early in the narrative, Tomorrow cannot help but feel the magnetic power of the man. It might seem strange for a dog to be so apparently eloquent, but that is a plot device which must be accepted with a suspension of disbelief; his conversations with other dogs are helpfully translated for us; although I am of the opinion that the occasional grammatical errors which crop up are human, not inserted deliberately to make the dog seem less than intelligent.
Inevitably, both man & dog have romantic relationships which are inherently doomed, because of the disparity in their respective species’ lifespans, so this is a major element of pathos in the narrative, and both Valentyne & Tomorrow have to learn to accommodate this inevitability; of the two, Tomorrow seems to be the more philosophical, although the death of his one love does affect him deeply, and he also mourns the loss of a true friend, acquired against his better judgment at the time. Despite Valentyne’s constant avoidance of Vilder, or perhaps because of the need for it, Valentyne takes on a mission in life, to be a peripatetic battlefield physician, following military adventures over a wide geographical area, with no obvious partisan loyalties save the relieving of suffering, for which his apparently magical elixir, which he calls jhyr, is occasionally but sparingly put to use. Unsurprisingly, after Valentyne goes missing in Venice, and Tomorrow waits for him for over one hundred years, there is a confrontation & a reckoning between Valentyne & Vilder; before this, Tomorrow, with his travelling companion, Sporco, is abducted by Vilder, and he learns that Valentyne was imprisoned in the same building: it had once been a sumptuous mansion, but it was now a prison by any other name.
I make no secret of the fact that I generally enjoy stories which use the concept of time as their theme; this is only time travel inasmuch as the direction is exclusively forwards, but it does allow the protagonists to experience different periods, with their individual fashions, mores, and personalities, and there is also the slightly furtive frisson to be enjoyed from being aware that the protagonists know something that their contemporaries don’t, provided they are discreet, which these are, of necessity; apart from one confession to an empathetic clergyman in the Carpathian mountains which, luckily, doesn’t put Valentyne in any additional jeopardy. The dénouement is not entirely unexpected, and its message of forgiveness is worthy; whether it is plausible depends upon one’s view of human nature. This book appears to be a one-off, but the author has written another book, which was set for publication in 2020, so it should be available now; that one is set in Renaissance Venice [so he seems to have a penchant for this city, as it features heavily in Tomorrow], and is about how far artists were prepared to go to discover new colours [when they weren’t available in millions, simply by using the correct combination of pixellated pigments]: “Think Perfume, for pigment.” The paperback I read was published in 2019 [2018, Michael Joseph], by Penguin Books, part of the Penguin Random House group of companies, ISBN 978-1-4059-2578-5.