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

“Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole” by Hans-Olav Thyvold, translated from the Norwegian by Marie Ostby

c.2020, HarperVia $26.99 / $33.50 Canada 307 pages

You can imagine the ice and snow that’s coming.

Remember it? The howling wind and sleet that stings your cheeks and there isn’t enough clothing in the world to keep you warm? So read “Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole” by Hans-Olav Thyvold, and put away those thermals. Fur might do just as well.

Today is the final day of Major Thorkildsen’s life.

Tassen knows it; better, perhaps, than the Major himself. His dying is as if someone’s shutting down a grand building, turning off lights one by one and when it’s over, Tassen wonders what comes next.

No matter what, he’ll always be grateful to the Major for saving him from the humiliation of being “the wrong color” dog, forever rejected. Indeed, he remembers the day he became the Major’s pup; he’s always been a one-man dog, which always worked out fine. Now that man will have to be Mrs. Thorkildsen.

Tassen is okay with that. He always liked Mrs. Thorkildsen; she was a librarian once and she loved to read. She also drank too much dragon water but Tassen could live with it. He was more worried about having to go with her in the car to bring home prey but as it turned out, the hunting grounds were not too far away to walk, and so they did.

It was on one of their walks that Mrs. Thorkildsen showed him the dogs.

They’d been discussing those dogs – Greenland dogs, she’d called them – and when Tassen saw them and startled, she said they were stuffed with sawdust. They were the same dogs that had been to the South Pole with Roald Amundsen; he’d used them for pulling sleds and other things Tassen couldn’t bear to think about.

He’d have made a lousy Greenland dog, but Good Boys never had to worry about that. They only had to guard their people and their home, and wait. Always wait…

Hans-Olav Thyvold

The first thing you need to know about “Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole” is that you can leave the tissues behind. It’s not that kind of a book.

Mostly. It’s mostly not.

Instead, what you’ll find here is clever, times five. Author Hans-Olav Thyvold tells this entire tale from the viewpoint of an observantly droll, inadvertently-humorous dog, a breed of which readers are left to imagine. Thankfully, Tassen isn’t precious or cloying and there’s plenty of great dialogue from him, which is fun to figure out. It’s a wonderful premise but with a surprise that disappoints…

Thyvold spends a lot of time letting Mrs. Thorkildsen teach Tassen – and thereby teaching readers – about Amundsen’s trek to the South Pole, and the dogs he took. It’s interesting. It’s also too much, and could’ve been cut by a third.

Advice: be prepared to skim a bit and you won’t be sorry. Tassen is too wonderful to pass up and a “Wait – what?” ending will leave you stunned. Find “Good Dogs Don’t Make It to the South Pole,” grab a blanket, and chill.