Let’s be upfront from the beginning here: I have had pets (dogs when I was a kid and cats as an adult) all my life and I have always been very fond of them. But I would never really describe myself as someone who has such a strong emotional bond to an animal that I am distraught when they, inevitably, die. This may be because I started my pet owning career with short-lived things – hamsters, gerbils, a series of goldfish all called Harry Worth and even a tank of woodlice – and got quite used to them popping off at regular intervals. Or I am a cold-hearted woman. One of the two. I also do not personally subscribe to the whole ‘rainbow bridge’ thing – I don’t really believe in an afterlife for humans so why would I think there was one for pets? Anyway, I don’t think there is anything wrong in investing emotionally in animals to such an extent – I just have never been able to do it myself. I am, however, very fond of my current cat Rosie (so long as she hasn’t done anything unspeakable in the conservatory…).
Lily and the Octopus is, however, a book about a man and his dog who appear to share a huge amount in emotional terms. They are, in fact, the love of each other’s lives and it is, in many ways, wonderful to see the depth of their attachment. Lily is a dachshund with an irrepressible love of life and her owner (if that doesn’t sound too mercenary a term for such a close relationship) is a writer named Ted. Ted, recently single, enjoys his life with Lily doing all the things best friends do – scrabble night, movie night and, of course, the night they discuss which boys are cute – until the day he realises that Lily has an octopus on her head. Yep, I did a double take at this point too, but it becomes obvious that this is in fact some kind of growth and the rest of the book is about how Ted deals with it.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe this book. I started out thinking that the octopus is some kind of metaphor or figment of Ted’s imagination. He is, after all, a writer and all those in-depth conversations he has with Lily (in which she is sometimes philosophical, sometimes as excitable as a puppy) can’t be real. Can they? There is a hint of magical realism – especially once the Octopus starts talking back to Ted – or maybe allegory. Anyway, I really loved the way I was drawn in to trying to work out what the story was trying to say at the same time as following the actual narrative. In the end, and without giving away too much of the plot I hope, I found I ended up contemplating love, grief and the overwhelming (although often repressed) need for companionship. And even this cold-hearted woman shed a tear or two towards the end…