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Literature / The Dogs of Babel

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"The conclusion I have reached is that, above all, dogs are witnesses. They are allowed access to our most private moments. They are there when we think we are alone. Think of what they could tell us. They sit on the laps of presidents. They see acts of love and violence, quarrels and feuds, and the secret play of children. If they could tell us everything they have seen, all of the gaps of our lives would stitch themselves together."
Paul Iverson

The Dogs of Babel (also known as Lorelei's Secret in the UK) is the debut novel of Carolyn Parkhurst. It was one of The New York Times Notable Fiction & Poetry books of 2003. The novel became a best-seller.

Linguist Paul Iverson's entire life changes when a policeman calls to tell him his wife, Lexy Ransome, has died falling from an apple tree. The only witness to the event is their dog, Lorelei. Paul returns home to find strange "clues" left by Lexy: a rearranged bookcase, a mysterious phone call, and other hints that Lexy's death is not what it initially seemed.

Grief-stricken and determined to solve the mystery, Paul embarks on the strange mission to teach Lorelei how to communicate with him so she can retell the tragic events of Lexy's death. Along the way, Paul recounts his relationship with Lexy and fights to untangle himself from a dangerous web of former "scientists" who shared his goal to teach dogs to communicate with humankind.


A movie adaptation has been rumored for the near future. Steve Carell is slated to play the part of Paul.

Tropes present in The Dogs of Babel include:

  • Animal Testing: Of the illegal and not even morally ambiguous variety from The Cerberus Society. What they do to dogs in an effort to make them "speak" is straight up animal cruelty in the name of science.
  • Arc Words: Lines from Tam Lin are referenced frequently. "You are my finest knight" being the most significant.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: They really didn't.
  • Big, Friendly Dog: Lorelei, the Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Bittersweet Ending: Paul discovers Lexy's death was a suicide. Lorelei lost her larynx courtesy of the Cerberus Society but is back safe with Paul. The novel ends with Paul slowly growing past his grief and going out with the nice woman he met at the animal shelter.
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  • Break His Heart to Save Him: What Lexy's actions could be construed as.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Lexy battled with depression frequently in her youth. The after-effects still lingered into her adulthood.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the end it's revealed Lexy committed suicide because of her fear she'd ruin the life of Paul's and her unborn child.
  • Driving Question: Was Lexy's death really an accident?
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: A central conflict of the novel. Paul wants to make Lexy happy but doesn't know how. Lexy wants Paul to be happy at the expense of her mental stability. Lexy's suicide can also be interpreted as this.
  • The Lost Lenore: Lexy's death spurs forward the entire plot of the novel.
  • Mad Scientist: The members of the Cerberus Society. Special mention goes to Wendell Hollis.
  • Malevolent Mutilation: What happens to poor Lorelei.
  • Manic Pixie Dreamgirl: Something of a deconstruction, as Lexy's eccentricity and the delight she brings to Paul doesn't overshadow her own personal problems. It could be said that Paul's inability to fully understand her contributed to her suicide.
  • The Masochism Tango: Paul and Lexy's relationship
  • Meet Cute: Paul and Lexy. Square eggs.
  • Mood-Swinger: Lexy
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Wendell Hollis, also known as "the Dog Butcher of Brooklyn."
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Lexy was pregnant at the time of her death. Paul didn't find out until after the fact.
  • Omniglot: Paul, at least when it comes to breaking down word roots and deciphering their meanings. Justifiably so.
  • Public Secret Message: The rearranged bookshelf
  • Room Full of Crazy: The Cerberus Society. Their shared delusion is especially evident when Dog J "speaks" at their meeting.
  • Significant Anagram: Paul makes anagrams of names throughout the book and points out how fitting they can be.
  • Stepford Smiler: Lexy
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Paul's final argument with Lexy where he cruelly tells her to 'try not to break anymore of his things' while she's having an emotional meltdown because she broke his favorite pen.

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