2020 International Male Author Challenge · 2020 Reviews · contemporary fiction

Book Review: Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole by Hans Olav-Thyvold

Title: Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole

Author: Hans Olav-Thyvold

Published: February 4th 2020

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 304

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

The wisest, funniest, and most inspiring book on ageing and friendship written by a dog you’ll ever read.The best thing you can aspire to in this world is company. Whether it’s for pleasure or pain, a crowning or an execution: everything is better with company. You might say it all went to hell with Mrs. Thorkildsen, but you know what? It could have been worse, because Mrs. Thorkildsen had me to keep her company. And I had her. That’s what we had in common, her and me, what bound us together. We were company.

The Major, a World War II veteran, breathes his last. Watching over him are his wife and his faithful companion, Tassen, the story’s narrator, who is, by his own admission, a couch potato and a one-man dog.

After the Major is gone, Tassen and Mrs Thorkildsen settle into their new life surrounded by books and stories of the 1911 race between Norway’s explorer Roald Amundsen and Britain’s Captain Robert F. Scott to reach the South Pole first. Regular visits to the local library and the bar next door provide all types of enlightenment. However, when Mrs Thorkildsen becomes ill, Tassen’s world begins to wobble.

Beguiling, poignant, funny and thoughtful, this novel is destined to become a favourite.


Mrs Thorkildsen thinks for a while before responding: ‘Well, who knows? It’s not at the South Pole. But if it was a good dog, and I have every reason to think it was, I’m sure it went to a good place.’ ‘Good dogs don’t make it to the South Pole?’        ‘Unlikely.’                                                                         

Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole by Norwegian born author Hans Olav-Thyvold was first published in 2017 as Snille hunder kommer ikke til Sydpolen. Translated into English and released in February 2020 by Allen and Unwin, Hans Olav-Thyvold’s novel offers an offbeat account of the life and times of Tassen, a dog recently left in the care of the widow of his much loved owner. Moving, revealing, surprising and life affirming, Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole is an entertaining piece of debut fiction from Hans Olav-Thyfold.

A story that looks at life, love, death, ownership, friendship, loyalty and trust, Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole follows a dog named Tassen who is left rather bereft following the loss of his owner named The Major. A survivor of the Second World War, the Major rescued Tassen and gave him a loving and respectful home. But now following the death of the Major, Tassen faces a future under the care of the Major’s wife. Both are grieving the loss of the Major, but they manage to cultivate a new friendship based on respect, care, compassion, understanding and unconditional support. Mrs Thorkildesen begins to take Tassen with her to the library, where she tells Tassen stories of a great dog journey involving a race between renowned explorers Roald Amundsen and Captain Robert F. Scott to get to the South Pole. This is a strange time for Tassen, learning to negotiate a new friendship and reconcile his thoughts on this keynote expedition. But just as the Major succumbed to illness and old age, so too does Mrs Thorkildsen. In this ode to a dog’s life, Hans Olav-Thyfold considers the light and dark moments in this canine’s existence.

I have a weakness for dog stories and I was really intrigued by the slightly offbeat title of Hans Olav-Thyfold’s fictional debut, Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole. A very appealing cover featuring a gorgeous dog also caught my attention and I knew that I had to read this international bestseller. I’m glad I made some room in my rather tight reading schedule for this non review book, it was a heart-warming piece.

I loved how Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole was solely narrated from the viewpoint of an endearing and a captive narrator, Tassen the Dog. We are privy to Tassen’s innermost thoughts, feelings and opinions. Some of these will have you laughing, crying and they may even leave you baffled! I liked how this book worked to illustrate the confusion that exists between how we relate to dogs and how our canine friends misunderstand us. But what shines is the loyalty, respect, trust and implicit love between a human and a canine. There are moments of pure love and devastating lows. The sad times did get to me, but I was able to take the moments of hope that are sprinkled through this novel as a guiding light to get me through the sorrow.

Relationships are a focal point in Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole. We witness the respectful reciprocal relationship between Tassen and the Major. We glean a little of Tassen’s history, as well as the Major’s life story. We meet the Major at the end of his life and his departure leaves a big dent in the life of his dog and his wife’s heart. The author did a good job of capturing the grief and loss felt by a canine left behind once his owner passes on. I liked the gentle development of the relationship between Tassen and the Major’s wife. This was a genuine connection that progressed out of grief, need, support and duty. Within the context of the relationship side of things, we receive a different kind of insight into ageing and ill health, from a dog’s point of view. This was unusual, but also enlightening.

There is an extra focus for this narrative that forms a relatively significant component of the novel. We are guided through a story involving the race to the South Pole, involving two prominent explorers. There is a rather sad history to the dogs involved in this pioneering expedition. I’m not sure that it had as much impact for me as the author may have intended. I think the focus on the relationship between the dog, the Major and his widow was more than enough for this novel.

Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole offers a unique look into grief, loss, friendship and ageing from the viewpoint of a very perceptive canine. I’m sure Hans Olav-Thyvold’s book will resonate with many readers, including dog lovers.  

Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole by Hans Olav-Thyvold was published on 4th February 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

*Book #10 of the 2020 International Male Author Challenge.

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