The Labrador Pact by British novelist Matt Haig is a darkly comic tale narrated by Price, a young Labrador Retriever whose sole purpose on earth is to keep his human family, the Hunters, out of harm's way and happy. At the beginning of the novel, the Hunters seem to be your quintessential happy middle-class family living in the suburbs. But we soon find out that beneath the surface, even the happiest families have secrets, and temptations that draw its members outside of the safe haven of the family unit.
The book's original title when it was published in the United Kingdom was The Last Family in England. Perhaps the title was changed because Labrador Retrievers are the most popular breed of dog in America; I'm sure many people will recognize their own Lab in Prince's sad tale.
The story begins on what Price thinks will be his last day alive, where he's taken to "Nice Mister Vet's" office to be euthanized. We soon find out that he has broken the sacred Labrador Pact, a creed to be obeyed by all Labrador Retrievers.
The basic tenet of the Pact is "Duty over all" - which basically means all dogs must ignore their wolf-like instincts to preserve the wellbeing of the Family, which is not only the family they live with, but families everywhere. The reward for this allegiance to the Labrador Pact is the Eternal Reward, where all dogs will be reunited with family members and friends who have died. Humans remain blissfully unaware of all of this. Dogs don't speak in front of humans but bark or wine to communicate.
Other breeds of dogs, such as Springer Spaniels, are not so loyal, pleasure-seekers who ridicule Labradors and their doggy dogma. This started many years ago during the "Springer Uprising," when many breeds of dogs gave up on pleasing humans. Their slogans are "Dogs for Dogs, not for Humans" and "Pleasure not Duty."
Henry, an older Labrador and ex-police dog, is Prince's mentor in the story who trains Prince in all aspects of the Pact. Prince learns tail-wagging control (as anyone who's ever owned a Lab knows, this is something they're not very good at) and how to interpret the moods and behavior of humans.
Haig's last novel, The Dead Fathers Club, was a modern reworking of Hamlet. The Labrador Pact borrows themes and character names from Henry IV, Part 1. At times the novel seemed to struggle to emulate the themes in Shakespeare's great works but for the most part is successful.
There have been many children's book narrated by animals, but few adult books with an animal narrator go as far as Haig's does in being utterly convincing. The Labrador Pact is one of the funniest books I've read in quite some time. If you've ever looked into your own dog's eyes and wondered what was on his mind, this is the book for you.