The Dogs of Babel

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In Paul's fantastic and even perilous search for the truth about his wife's death, he abandons his everyday life to embark on a series of experiments designed to teach his dog Lorelei to communicate. Could she really give him the answers he is looking for?

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In Paul's fantastic and even perilous search for the truth about his wife's death, he abandons his everyday life to embark on a series of experiments designed to teach his dog Lorelei to communicate. Could she really give him the answers he is looking for?

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
When Paul Iverson's wife, Lexy, is found dead in their yard, the only witness to her death is the couple's loyal dog, Lorelei. Struck numb with grief and consumed by the need to know why his beloved Lexy died, Paul leaves his job as a linguistics professor to take on the impossible task of teaching his dog to communicate. With Lorelei by his side, he flashes back to the pivotal moments of his life with Lexy: their first, weeklong date, his muddied attempts to convince her to have a child, and their last bitter fight before her death. His journey will lead him to unbearable secrets of Lexy's burdened heart and teach him that the truest forms of love don't need words at all. In richly imagined prose, Carolyn Parkhurst's debut novel is a surprising, heartwarming, and utterly captivating story of love and coming to terms with loss. Andrew Ayala
Parkhurst does magnificently...illuminates the emotional landscape that faces a surviving spouse...unforgettable.
Entertainment Weekly
...shimmers with idiosyncratic intrigue...Parkhurst tells her tale with considerable skill...a humanistic parable of the heart's confusions..
a heartbreaking exploration of memory and language, grief and redemption.
Marie Claire
a quirky and endearing love triangle..
a neatly, almost perfectly constructed novel...
The New Yorker
The premise is simple, if strange. Paul, a linguistics professor, comes home from work to discover that his wife has fallen fatally from their back-yard apple tree. The only witness to the event is the family dog, Lorelei. Desperate to find out whether his wife's death was suicide or accident, Paul does what any linguistics professor would do: he sets about teaching the dog to talk so that she can tell him what happened. In between accounts of talking-dog experiments, we get flashbacks to Paul's blissful married life. His wife, a mask-maker who played whimsical trickster to his straitlaced academic, occasionally dabbled in the occult, and this gives Parkhurst the opportunity to write about tarot readings, spooky masks, and dream journals. But the mysticism, though ably rendered, gets tedious, while Parkhurst rushes through the experiments with the dog -- the peg from which the book hangs -- developing neither verisimilitude nor artful absurdity.
The New York Times
This is a book that wears its symbolism on its sleeve, at great risk but with startling effectiveness. In fact, Lexy is a square egg herself, dangerously unable to fit the predictable wifely mold. And her scalp is tattooed with snakes, a sign of her troubled adolescence and her inner Medusa. What's more, Ms. Parkhurst dares to court heavy-handedness by making Lexy an artist who creates masks. Lexy wears the face of Lorelei at one point; she wears Paul's at another. — Janet Maslin
The Los Angeles Times
The Dogs of Babel is a cuddly tall tale about the rituals of grief. Yet it poses some uncomfortable questions: Are spouses as unknowable as pets? Can we help but go to absurd lengths to avoid confronting the reality of death? Can radical surgery improve a dog's likelihood of talking? In the end, Lorelei does tell Paul everything he needs to know. But, like this strange and winning novel, he uncovers truth in a wholly unexpected way. — Mark Rozzo
The Washington Post
In the brief union of Lexy and Paul, author Carolyn Parkhurst has created two compelling characters to take us through the shoals and delights of falling in love and into the calmer and sometimes more dangerous world of marriage. By interweaving Paul's project on canine linguistics with his memories of Lexy, Parkhurst shows how the way things end can change the way we see the past. — Susan Dooley
Publishers Weekly
Consumed with grief and obsessed with unlocking the mystery of wife Lexy's fatal fall from a backyard apple tree, 43-year-old linguistics professor Paul Iverson describes himself as "a man who wants to know things no human being could tell him." Unsure whether Lexy's death was an accident or suicide and confronted with some puzzling "clues" she left behind, Paul soon undertakes the bizarre and seemingly impossible task of teaching the tragedy's only witness, his beloved Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, to speak. Seamlessly shifting between characters and accents (including a memorable performance as a Southern fortune teller), stage, television and voice-over actor Singer gives an impeccable, unabridged narration. He deftly handles Parkhurst's frequent use of flashbacks to the couple's early courtship and marriages and has a keen ability to vocally reflect the slightest change in mood. While some listeners may find the animal language acquisition subplot farfetched at points, Parkhurst's attention to human emotion and response bring a poignancy to the unique story line that translates well to audio. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 3) (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
When the narrator's wife, Lexy, dies in a fall from a backyard apple tree, the only witness is their dog, Lorelei. In his grief, Paul, who is a trained linguist, decides that the dog knows something about the death and tries to teach him to communicate. Even he realizes how ludicrous this is, but he can't seem to move on to the next phase of his life until he solves the mystery of her death. Gradually he gathers clues that Lexy left him and comes to understand what really happened. The book is about communication and how difficult it is to connect with another person and yet how desperately we need to. Some of the symbolism in the story is obvious; for instance, Lexy is a mask-maker and a truth hider. Paul is a linguist who can't understand his wife's needs until she is dead. Parkhurst is able to take an almost silly premise, a grieving man tries to teach his dog to talk, and turn it into a story of understanding and eventual communication and the passage from life's darkest moments to the gradual lifting of darkness. It is quietly wonderful and filled with insight. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Little, Brown, Back Bay, 264p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
When Paul Iverson discovers that his wife has died in a fall from a tree, he does something unusual. Suspecting that her death was not an accident-there are odd clues, like the reshuffled books on the shelf-he uses his training as a linguist to try to teach their dog, Lorelei, to talk so that he can reconstruct Lexy's last hours. As Paul slips into ever more desperate behavior, we hear an account of his and Lexy's courtship and marriage-the tender, tentative union of two damaged people. But then Paul contacts a man convicted of operating on dogs to install vocal chords, and what had been a poignant, affecting tale turns truly frightening (dog lovers, beware). And then it is over; Paul learns that there are some things you should never do, even for love, and turns the memory of Lexy into a gift. Parkhurst delivers a remarkable debut in quiet, authoritative prose. It's especially noteworthy that Paul's crusade does not seem preposterous and that while the author offers an affecting message, her characters don't seem like message bearers but distinctive, lively individuals you might like to know. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/03.]-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The brilliance ... lies in the subtle buildup of emotion ... and ... how powerfully that emotional wave hits..... An unforgettable debut.
Kirkus Reviews
A workmanlike, confusedly titled debut about the death of a morbid young wife. Paul Iverson, a regular-guy linguistics prof at a mid-Atlantic university, receives the news that his wife of several years, Lexy, has fallen to her death from a backyard apple tree. Only her beloved dog Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, has witnessed the fall and the last hours of her life, and Paul, grieving and numb, embarks on the professionally estranging work of trying to get Lorelei to tell (literally) what she knows. Oddities emerge--like the fact that Lexy cooked and fed the dog a steak and rearranged the bookshelves before she climbed and fell--suggesting that Lexy, a maker of festive masks from clay, paper, and varnish, had an ulterior motive in climbing the tree. In his disembodied depression, Paul researches possibilities of language acquisition in dogs and even contacts an imprisoned canine mutilator convicted of conducting surgery on dogs to reshape their palates for talking. When Paul attends a meeting of the Cerberus Society, the story turns really bizarre, but only briefly: Parkhurst adheres to the gradual, fairly tedious unraveling of Paul and Lexy’s courtship and married life. The lack of detail about Lexy’s past is covered by her charmingly erratic behavior as a newlywed--the playful thespian masks she fashions for weddings and plays transforming into death masks. But there’s an underlying fissure in this conflicted first novel, the misdirected title a clue: it’s a simple love story without the gumption to go in more unsettling directions à la Patrick McGrath. The highlight isn’t the couple’s first date at Disney World, but the kitschy TV medium Lady Arabelle’s tarot card reading of Lexy’slast night alive. Paul is an emotionally bumbling Everyman no one can dislike, simply desiring a stable home and family, while his wife’s coreless irresolution seems without substance and ultimately merely irritating. A compelling idea fizzles out into anticlimactic detail.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316778503
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 6/7/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 276,186
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Parkhurst
Carolyn Parkhurst
Carolyn Parkhurst is a writer with a true talent for using the strangest of premises to tell tales that are genuinely insightful and moving. Her debut novel The Dogs of Babel, the story of a grieving widower who attempts to teach his dog to speak, won her wide acclaim. Now with a smart and funny follow-up that takes on reality television, Parkhurst is proving that she is anything but a one-hit-wonder.


What dog lover would not want to know exactly what her or his pet was thinking—and hear those thoughts articulated verbally? And what if it were indeed possible to teach a dog to communicate as humans do? This is the goal of the grieving widower at the heart of Carolyn Parkhurst's quirky but moving debut novel The Dogs of Babel.

Parkhurst's bold debut grew out of an inventive "history" of canine linguistics she penned while in college. This wholly fictional "research" paper provided Parkhurst with the basis of what would become The Dogs of Babel. "I think every dog owner has wondered, what is my dog thinking?" she explained to Bookpage. "What do they make of what they observe about my life? I wish it were true that we could talk and find out what they're thinking, but I don't think it's ever going to happen."

This bizarre premise was actually a means for Parkhurst to explore the themes of grief, loss, redemption, and communication that form the emotional core of The Dogs of Babel. In the novel, a linguistics professor named Paul Iverson finds his beloved wife Lexy lying dead beneath a thirty-foot apple tree in their yard. Not knowing whether Lexy slipped from the branches accidentally or willfully plummeted to her death, Paul turns to the sole witness to uncover the secret of Lexy's death. Unfortunately, this witness happens to be Loralei, his pet Rhodesian Ridgeback. Devastated, Paul abandons his job and embarks on a quest to teach his dog speech in order to discover what, exactly, happened to his wife.

The eccentricity of this premise is not lost on the author, who admits, "There's a real issue of getting readers to suspend their belief when your premise is a man who is trying to teach his dog to talk," but said, "My hope is that, as you learn more about Paul and what he's like, it's believable that he might follow this unlikely course."

Thanks to Parkhurst's skillful blend of absurdity and genuine humanity, readers not only bought her outlandish premise but enthusiastically embraced the writer as a significant new talent, Book magazine even named her as a "new writer to watch." The Dogs of Babel received raves from a string of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Esquire, People magazine, Marie Claire, and Entertainment Weekly. Furthermore, the novel helped Parkhurst come to terms with her own tragic loss. "My dog, Chelsea, who died during the time I was writing the book, was certainly an inspiration to me," she told Identity "I think that the experience of living with such a sweet dog is probably what made me want to write about dogs in the first place."

Carolyn Parkhurst followed up her touching smash debut with a novel that is no less insightful, but somewhat more humorous. Lost and Found explores the relationships between seven mismatched couples as they compete in the reality TV show from which the novel takes its name. The fictional show is a global scavenger hunt, and the participants find more than they bargained for as relationships become increasingly strained as the game's stakes grow higher. The book generated more positive notices for Parkhurst. Kirkus Reviews stated that Lost and Found surpasses Parkhurst's critically acclaimed debut, adding that, "Given the high-concept premise, Parkhurst has avoided the pitfall of simply engineering a joyride..." Deserved praise for sure, but what else would anyone expect from the writer of The Dogs of Babel?

Good To Know

In her interview with Barnes &, Parkhurst shared some fun facts about herself:

"I wrote my first story, 'The Table Family,' when I was three. Actually, I dictated it to my mother. It was about a family of tables (Table was their last name), and they were upset because there was a family of leaves growing in their house, but then they all learned to live together. The story also had self-driving cars, a friendly witch, and a man who had only one eye—all the important plot elements."

"I've had three dogs in my life; their names were Fritzie, Shannon, and Chelsea. My mom and I got Chelsea when I was in college, and she's the one who chose his name, despite the fact that he was a male dog and Chelsea is largely a female name.

"A few years later, when Chelsea had come to live with me, my future husband and I tried for a short time to change his name to Doug, which we thought was more fitting (we were inspired by a 'Far Side' cartoon that shows a man standing on his front lawn next to a sign that says, ‘Beware of Doug.' We also liked the way it sounded: ‘This is my dog, Doug'). We did manage to get him to respond to the new name, but ultimately we decided to go back to the name he'd had since he was a puppy."

"I've spent a lot more time watching game shows than I care to admit. I like the excitement of them, the combination of luck and skill, and the possibility that someone could win something really great. Sad as it may sound, The Price is Right is one of the highlights of my day. Whenever my son hears the theme music, he runs to the TV and points at it with great agitation and excitement."

"I love to travel and to cook, although I haven't had much of a chance to do either one since my son was born."

"I collect masks, which is the inspiration for my character Lexy's career as a mask maker, and the first one I ever got was a Carnival mask I bought in Venice. It's a tall gold feather made of papier-mâché, with the features of a woman's face pressed into it. It's beautiful, but it's about two feet tall, and when I bought it I didn't realize I'd have to carry it through Italy for the next two weeks. I dragged it on trains and buses and planes, and I was terrified I'd damage it. The man at the store had wrapped it in paper, and I was scared to unwrap it while I was traveling, so I didn't know until I got home whether it had made the trip intact. Luckily, it was fine; now it's hanging in my living room."

"I also like to play games and do crossword puzzles. When my husband and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary, I read that the gift is supposed to be paper, so I spent about a month making a crossword puzzle for him. It's surprisingly hard to do. I filled it with clues and references that only he and I would know about, and on the morning of our anniversary, I made him sit there and fill in the whole thing."

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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 18, 1971
    2. Place of Birth:
      Manchester, New Hampshire
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Wesleyan University, 1992; M.F.A. in Creative Writing, American University, 1998
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


Here is what we know, those of us who can speak to tell a story: On the afternoon of October 24, my wife, Lexy Ransome, climbed to the top of the apple tree in our backyard and fell to her death. There were no witnesses, save our dog, Lorelei; it was a weekday afternoon, and none of our neighbors were at home, sitting in their kitchens with their windows open, to hear whether, in that brief midair moment, my wife cried out or gasped or made no sound at all. None of them were working in their yards, enjoying the last of the warm weather, to see whether her body crumpled before she hit the ground, or whether she tried to right herself in the air, or whether she simply spread her arms open to the sky.

I was in the university library when it happened, doing research for a paper I was working on for an upcoming symposium. I had an evening seminar to teach that night, and if I hadn't called home to tell Lexy something interesting I'd read about a movie she'd been wanting to see, then I might have taught my class, gone out for my weekly beer with my graduate students, and spent a few last hours of normalcy, happily unaware that my yard was full of policemen kneeling in the dirt.

As it was, though, I dialed my home number and a man answered the phone. "Ransome residence," he said.

I paused for a moment, confused. I scanned my mental catalog of male voices, friends and relatives who might possibly be at the house for one reason or another, but I couldn't match any of them to the voice on the other end of the line. I was a bit thrown by the phrase "Ransome residence," as well; my last name is Iverson, and to hear a strange man refer to my house as if only Lexy lived there gave me the strange feeling that I'd somehow, in the course of a day, been written out of my own life's script.

"May I speak to Lexy?" I said finally.

"May I ask who's calling?" the man said.

"This is her husband, Paul. Iverson."

"Mr. Iverson, this is Detective Anthony Stack. I'm going to need you to come home now. There's been an accident."

Apparently Lorelei was the one responsible for summoning the police. As our neighbors returned home from work, one by one, they heard her endless, keening howl coming from our yard. They knew Lorelei, most of them, and were used to hearing her bark, barrel-chested and deep, when she chased birds and squirrels around the yard. But they'd never heard her make a sound like this. Our neighbor to the left, Jim Perasso, was the first to peer over the top of our fence and make the discovery. It was already dark out - the days were getting shorter, and dusk was coming earlier and earlier each day - but as Lorelei ran frantically between the apple tree and the back door of the house, her movements activated our backyard motion-sensor lights. With every circle Lorelei made, she'd pause to nudge Lexy's body with her nose, stopping long enough to allow the lights to go out; then, as she resumed her wild race to each corner of the yard, the lights would go on again. It was through this surreal, strobelike flickering that Jim saw Lexy lying beneath the tree and called 911.

When I arrived, there was police tape marking off the backyard gate, and the man I had spoken to on the phone met me as I walked across the lawn. He introduced himself again and took me to sit in the living room. I followed him dumbly, all my half-questions stalled by the dread that seemed to have stopped the passage of air through my lungs. I guess I knew what was coming. Already, the house felt still and bare, as if it had been emptied of all the living complexity that had been there when I left. Even Lorelei was gone, having been sedated and taken away by animal control for the night.

Detective Stack told me what had happened as I sat there, numb.

"Do you have any idea what your wife might have been doing in the tree?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. She had never, in the time I had known her, shown any interest in climbing trees, and this one couldn't have been an easy one to start with. The apple tree in our yard is unusually tall, a monster compared to the dwarf varieties you see in orchards and autumn pick-your-own farms. We had neglected it, not pruning it even once in the time we'd lived there, and it had grown to an unruly height of twenty-five or thirty feet. I couldn't begin to guess what she might have been doing up there. Detective Stack was watching me closely. "Maybe she wanted to pick some apples," I said weakly.

"Well, that seems to be the logical answer." He looked at me and at the floor. "It seems pretty clear to us that your wife's death was an accident, but in cases like this when there are no witnesses, we need to do a brief investigation to rule out suicide. I have to ask - did your wife seem at all depressed lately? Did she ever mention suicide, even in a casual way?"

I shook my head.

"I didn't think so," he said. "I just had to ask."

When the men in the yard finished taking their pictures and collecting their evidence, Detective Stack talked to them and reported back to me that everyone was satisfied. It had been an accident, no question. Apparently there are two ways of falling, and each one tells a story. A person who jumps from a great height, even as high as seven or eight floors up, can control the way she falls; if she lands on her feet, she may sustain great injuries to her legs and spine, but she may survive. And if she does not survive, then the particular way her bones break, the way her ankles and knee shatter from the stress of the impact, lets us know that her jump was intentional. But a person who reaches the top branches of an apple tree, twenty-five feet off the ground, and simply loses her footing has no control over how she falls. She may tumble in the air and land on her stomach or her back or her head. She may land with her skin intact and still break every bone and crush every organ inside her. This is how we decide what is an accident and what is not. When they found Lexy, she was lying faceup, and her neck was broken. This is how we know that Lexy didn't jump.

Later, after the police had left and Lexy's body had been taken away, I went out into the yard. Underneath the tree, there was a scattering of apples that had fallen to the ground. Had Lexy climbed the tree to pick the last of the apples before they grew rotten on the branches? Perhaps she was going to bake something; perhaps she was going to put them in a pretty bowl and set them someplace sunny for us to snack on. I gathered them up carefully and brought them inside. I kept them on the kitchen table until the smell of their sweet rot began to draw flies.

It wasn't until a few days after the funeral that I began to find certain clues - well, I hesitate to use the word "clues," which excludes the possibility of sheer coincidence or overanalyzing on my part. To say I found clues would suggest that someone had laid out a careful trail of bits of information with the aim of leading me to a conclusion so well hidden and yet so obvious that its accuracy could not be disputed. I don't expect I'll be that lucky. I'll say instead that I began to discover certain anomalies, certain incongruities, that suggested that the day of Lexy's death had not been a usual day.

The first of these anomalies had to do with our bookshelves. Lexy and I were both big readers, and our bookshelves, like anyone's, I imagine, were halfheartedly organized according to a number of different systems. On some shelves, books were grouped by size, big coffee-table books all together on the bottommost shelf, and mass-market paperbacks crammed in where nothing else would fit. There were enclaves of books grouped by subject - our cookbooks were all on the same shelf, for example - but this type of classification was too painstaking to carry very far. Finally, there were her books and my books - books whose subject matter reflected our own individual interests, and books each of us had owned before we were married that just ended up in their own sections. Beyond that, it was a hodge-podge. Even so, I came to have a sense of which books belonged where. A mental impression that I had seen the novel I had loved when I was twenty sitting snugly between a book of poems we'd received as a wedding gift and a sci-fi thriller I had read on the beach one summer. If you asked me where you might find a particular textbook I coauthored, I could point you right to its place between a Beatles biography and a book about how to brew your own beer. This is how I know that Lexy rearranged the books before she died.

The second anomaly has to do with Lorelei. As far as I can piece together, it seems that Lexy took a steak from the refrigerator, one we'd been planning to barbecue that night on the grill, cooked it, and gave it to the dog. At first I thought she must have eaten it herself and merely given Lorelei the bone to chew on - I found the bone several days later, hidden in a corner of the bedroom - but the thing is, there were no dirty plates or cutlery, only the frying pan sitting on the stove where she left it. The dishwasher was locked, having been run that morning after breakfast, and when I opened it up, I could still recognize my own handiwork in the way the dishes had been negotiated into place. The dishwasher hadn't been touched, the dish rack next to the sink was empty, and the dish towels weren't even moist. I have to conclude that one of two things happened: either Lexy surprised Lorelei with an unprecedented wealth of meat or she stood in our kitchen on the last day of her life and ate an entire twenty-ounce steak with her fingers. As I think about it now, it occurs to me that there might be a third scenario, and it might be the best one of all: perhaps the two of them shared it.

Maybe these events mean nothing. After all, I am a grieving man, and I am trying very hard to find some sense in my wife's death. But the evidence I have discovered is sufficiently strange to make me wonder what really happened that day, whether it was really a desire for apples that led my sweet wife to climb to the top of that tree. Lorelei is my witness, not just to Lexy's death itself but to all the events leading up to it. She watched Lexy move through her days and her nights. She was there for the unfolding of our marriage from its first day to its last. Simply put, she knows things I don't. I feel I must do whatever I can to unlock that knowledge.

Copyright © 2003 by Carolyn Parkhurst

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Reading Group Guide

1. Paul is a college professor -- a man of reason -- yet he is determined he can teach his dog Lorelei to talk. What accounts for his strange conviction? Has grief driven him mad, or do his actions have a rational explanation?

2. Paul and Lexy seem to have extremely different personalities. What characteristics in Paul might have drawn Lexy to him? What, for Paul, were the irresistible elements of Lexy's character? Were there early indications that she had a darker side?

3. What do you make of Paul and Lexy's whirlwind romance and courtship? Do they rush into the relationship too quickly, or does the intensity of their feelings for each other indicate a powerful bond?

4. What kind of clues does Paul find to indicate that Lexy's death had more to it than it seemed? Do you think Lexy deliberately left him a puzzle to piece together?

5. How does making death masks affect Lexy? Despite Paul's fears that it is too morbid a pursuit for her, why does she tell Paul she wants to continue?

6. Lexy creates a death mask for a young girl named Jennifer, who committed suicide. Why do Jennifer's parents reject the first mask Lexy makes? What kind of significance does the mask take on for Lexy?

7. Paul's obsession with the Cerberus Society leads him and Lorelei into a dangerous situation. Why is he so fascinated with this strange group? Is he responsible for Lorelei's abduction?

8. During Paul and Lexy's vacation in New Orleans, Lexy is convinced that she has met the ghost of Blue Marie. Why is this meeting so important to her? What happens when she is led to believe that the woman was not, after all, Blue Marie?

9. Lexy faithfully records her dreams in a dream journal. After her death, Paul hunts through this book searching desperately for answers. What role do dreams play in the book? Do you think they offer a window into a person's psyche? How do Paul's dreams about Lexy reflect how his own grieving process progresses?

10. What is the significance of the verses from Tam Lin that Lexy teaches Paul on pp. 60-1? How does their meaning transform throughout the novel?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 158 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 158 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2005

    Why all the positive reviews?

    I don't get it at all. The vast majority of people on this site seem to love this book. Why? Lexy is an extremely self-centered, unlikeable 'heroine' and Paul is a complete dolt whose moronic actions cause horrific consequences for the poor dog, Lorelei. What is there to like in this book? If you're a dog lover or want to get caught up in characters you can actually care about, run, don't walk, away from The Dogs of Babel.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2006


    The book starts off fine but as an avid dog lover, I was appalled that someone could even think of dog mutilation as described in detail in the book much less write and publish it. It could have been a lovely story. I'd give it zero stars if I could!!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2006

    I couldn't stand it...

    First of all, why do people feel the need to summarize the book when giving a review... Having said that, being a dog lover, this book was probably the worst book I have ever read. I don't know how some one could possibly come up with something so completely cruel and inhumane. Whose mind works like that? And even more, what publisher thought it was a good idea to publish it? When I finished the book, all I could do was sit in the floor with my girls (dogs) and love them. I was stressed that there was some one out there that could even think of something like this. If there was an option for no stars, I would choose it instead of one star.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Deeply Disappointing

    I bought this book at a local resale shop, thinking the premise sounded interesting. The lead female character Lexy has obviously had psychological problems since her teenage years. She did have an interesting profession, but ultimately I found her character self-centered and exhausting. Then I reached the part starting on the grotesque animal experimentation. I have spent decades trying to eradicate animal abuse of all kinds and if I had known it contained this aspect I would never have started reading it. Because her husband Paul could not admit to himself that his wife committed suicide he embarks on a ridiculous quest to teach his dog to talk, leaving his job, and sinking into depression. Then comes the part about the demented group of men who surgically experiment on dogs thinking they can teach them human language! This aspect of the story made me ill, and I don't care how the book ended, I stopped reading and will probably get rid of it. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2006

    Not convinced

    I had high hopes for this book. It kicked off powerfully, but later lost momentum and finally crashed and burned somewhere out in left field. The book is about a man's quest to use his dog to find out the truth about his wife's murder. However, as a dog owner and a woman, I found Parkhurst's portrayals of the wife (Lexy) and the dog (Lorelei) as contrived and outright unbelievable. The author included many flashbacks to describe the dead wife's previous time with the husband. The wife was supposed to have been portrayed as slightly wacky but lovable, but I found her to be selfish and spoiled and not lovable at all. The crux of this novel is to have a shared nostalgia for this dead wife. I disliked her character and therefore cared not about how she died, instead I was confused and annoyed at her husband who was obsessing over her death. The novel ends weakly, when the husband discovers the manner in which the wife died, which was no real surprise. The author has some gift for prose, but no gift for realistic or believable storytelling. I will be trying to get my money back for this book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    A lovely book up until the middle... then it's TERRIFYING.

    I would not recommend this book. I was left with terrible nightmares about mangled dogs and death masks. The ending left me with a lot to be desired. I cannot stress enough about the horrifying images I was left with. Never before have I felt such fear for a character of a book as I did with Lexy and the members of the 'Cerebrus Society'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2003

    Put It Down NOW!

    This book is disturbing and almost unbearably depressing. Sections on the torturous dog surgery gave me nightmares, and the human characters don't fare much better. Being both a dog lover and someone who has lost loved ones, the ideas of searching for cause and meaning as well as the use of a beloved pet as a seeker of truth were appealing to me. I was horrified with the manner in which these themes are explored.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2003


    When I read the reviews of this book, I thought it sounded rather strange. I am a dog lover though, so I was also intrigued, so I bought it anyway. I'm so glad I did. The writing is marvelous, the story is compellingly told, and I actually cried. I can't recommend this book highly enough. You won't be sorry!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2013

    Great read

    A quirky entertaining read that will keep you thinking what if!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013



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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013


    Very good book, i suggest anyone to read this book. Such a easy read and kept me interested

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    This was a great read. Rich prose, singularly original and compe

    This was a great read. Rich prose, singularly original and compelling plot. I look forward
    to reading more of her work. And, by the way, for those 'offended' by the character's actions with regards to teaching the dog to speak, I will remind you that this is FICTION. Get over it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2012

    I really got into this book early on, but was very disappointed

    I really got into this book early on, but was very disappointed in the way it ended. I agree with some of the other reviewers in that I began to lose interest as I learned more about Lexy and found her less likeable. Additionally, once the narrator, Lexy's husband, sought out the meeting of the dog mutilation group, I didn't like him all that much either, even if he had no evil intentions. But I also give it three stars because of its honesty. I had just finished reading a couple of books where the main characters were either sickeningly sweet and flawless or completely psychotic and evil, and so this book reminded me that people are far more complex. After all, aren't we all flawed, but worthy of some love? And aren't there people in our lives that aren't always lovable but who we love nevertheless?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    In my top 20

    Haunting, this story is achingly beautifu, sad, sweet and has the least trite description of what it is to love someone. And even when love cant save certain people its still everything.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    Not very good

    Not believable or enjoyable. I feel like I wasted my time.

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  • Posted April 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    This book broke my heart. Broody, introspective and a bit...weird. I love it.

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  • Posted February 26, 2011


    this book is the best its got all the detail in it.

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  • Posted October 5, 2010

    Highly recommend to any reader

    I was a little unsure if I'd like this book but I decided to purchase it anyways. I'm so glad I did, it is now my favorite book. You fall in love with the characters and can't stop reading. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good book with mystery, heartbreak, and love. After reading this book I'm definitally interested in reading Carolyn Parkhurst's other books, I just hope they can compare. Definitally read this book, you won't be disappointed.

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    From Dogs To Nobodies

    If you want to read Dogs of Babel after reading Carolyn Parkhurst's latest novel, The Nobodies Album, be prepared for a very different kind of book. Dogs of Babel does not match up to the latest, but it has its own quirky appeal, as it is very offbeat while at the same time a touching story. On the other hand, it's not as good as her latest. Getting better with each novel is a good thing!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great read!

    As a science fiction scholar and as a lay scholar of linguistics, I was pleased to start reading what I thought was a work of "soft science fiction" -- that is, I thought the novel would focus primarily on the supremely wonderful idea of a linguist's teaching a dog to communicate, for crushingly sad reasons. That misunderstanding was what made me start to read the book.
    When I realized I was mistaken, I was too hooked, too emotionally involved, to stop reading.
    Let me be clear: I adore every scene in which Paul Iverson tries to teach the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Lorelei, to communicate. These scenes fill me with joy. Iverson (that is to say, Carolyn Parkhurst) has brilliant ideas, which, alas, are more suited to teaching another primate or a deaf child to speak. Lorelei's wonderfully doggie inability to understand what Paul tries to communicate is always delightful and exactly right.
    But the central, painful focus is the story of Paul's grief and guilt and search for redemption.
    Parkhurst provides genuinely scary moments, and lovely moments of loving, and I wept over all of them. In her word-jokes, in her stories about the creation of masks, in Paul's grieving yet exalted memories of his dead wife, I felt the touch of the numinous sublime, again and again.
    I wholeheartedly recommend it to ... well, to everyone. There truly is something for every reader in this marvellous novel.

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