Richard Adams was born in Berkshire in 1920, and is probably best known for his debut novel, "Watership Down" - a story he originally told to his children, to help pass the time on long car journeys. "The Plague Dogs" was his third novel, and was first published in 1977 - and, like its predecessor, it was adapted into an animated film.
The book's two heroes are Rowf and Snitter - two dogs, and victims of scientific research. Rowf is a large, black mongrel who is constantly being drowned and resusitated while Snitter, a fox terrier, has had brain surgery. (There seems to be little point to the experiments - they're apparently being carried out just for the sheer hell of it). Naturally, Rowf has come to hate the water tank, while the surgery has left Snitter suffering from regular bouts of confusion. Unlike Rowf, who'd been bred for research, Snitter had once been a pet - and despite his operation, he knows there are better people out there than the "whitecoats." The pair are incarcerated at the Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental) labs, based in northern England's Lake District. (The institution's acronym, I'm guessing, gives some idea of what Adams thought about animal experimentation). The book opens on a Friday evening, and Snitter notices that Rowf's cage hasn't been properly closed. He manages to wriggle underneath the partition and the pair manage to escape into the outside world.
Although delighted to have escaped their tormentors, there soon realise that life on the outside isn't going to be easy. At first, Snitter tries to find them a new master - but each effort, naturally, ends in disaster. They soon realise they'll have to feed themselves, and find somewhere dry to sleep. Unfortunately, when they start taking sheep, the local farming comunity decide the dogs are a burden they could do without. The farmers suspect the dogs had indeed escaped from the research station and, when the tabloids get involved, there is a good deal of hysteria whipped up...
I read "The Plague Dogs" for the first time when I was thirteen, and - having re-read it many years later - I'd still rate it very highly. It isn't always an easy read, though; in fact, the first edition of the book's apparently had a slightly different ending to later editions, one that was slightly less warming. There's plenty of cruelty, thanks to ARSE's scientists and their experiments - though few of the humans in the book cover themselves in glory. There's little in the way of happiness, and throughout the book I just couldn't help feeling sorry for the dogs. They really only have one ally, a fox who speaks with a Geordie accent. Nevertheless, some of the writing is wonderful - Adams clearly loved the Lake District area, and the descriptions of the scenery are vivid. However, some of the characters' accents might be a little tricky enough...
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