Animal narrators are nothing unusual. I’d imagine very few children are brought up without some experience of stories told from the point of view of various bunnies, puppies and kittens and I, personally, have strong memories of crying my eyes out at some of the episodes narrated by Black Beauty (poor Ginger, I’m filling up just thinking about it…). It is, it seems, a tried and tested way of introducing youngsters to events and emotions which might seem too harsh if they had to contemplate them happening to people – I can’t even guess how many times I’ve recommended Badger’s Parting Gifts, for example – but as adults do we want the same things? Most animal-narrated books for adults that I’ve seen previously, such as A Dog’s Purpose, have been on the sentimental side so I’m not sure I was quite prepared for Lineker – the canine half of the narrating double act in the Last Dog on Earth.
Lineker and his master, Reginald (he really doesn’t like being called Reg, although he often is), live in a deserted tower block in London after some not quite specified disaster. This suits them as Reginald is anxious about leaving his flat and, even before London became a deserted wasteland, he does everything he can to avoid any kind of physical contact with other people. However, when a starving, silent and persistent child shows up on their doorstep – and refuses to leave – their lives change. They have to leave the safety of the flat and try to cross the city to get the child to a refugee camp. They meet allies and enemies – the latter generally being the purple-clad followers of a charmingly plausible politician whose inflammatory views set the destruction in progress – and discover that no-one can get through it all on their own.
I liked Reginald, a fragile, fallible but, in the end, downright decent man. He has his issues – an inability to be touched rooted in a terrible personal tragedy – but, when it comes down to it he overcomes them to protect those he feels responsible for. The child is fearful, fierce and, essentially, hugely resilient – you can see why both Lineker and his master come to love her – and other, minor, characters (human and canine) are well described. But Lineker himself, well, he really was the character which made the whole story come alive for me. He is pure dog. He adores his master, especially his various smells, and thinks deeply on many subjects (and also about smells, food and squirrels – he really hates squirrels…). His language is earthy, but this seems pretty dog-like to me. He uses words we would consider to be bad swear words but they are the ones connected to bodily functions and sex – what else to we expect a dog to be interested in? I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic novels (as I’m sure I may have mentioned previously) but this one stands out. Partly because the apocalypse itself is unusual – an eerily realistic political disaster rather than a plague/zombie attack/nuclear war/environmental crisis – but largely because Lineker is one of the oddest, if most engagingand joyful, heroes I’ve come across in the genre.
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…
So, to change the mood a little here is a preview of a book, due out next month, which didn’t take me too long to read! I’m just not sure why somebody hasn’t thought of a book of photos of dogs shaking before..
Some days what you really need are some pictures of animals doing something cute and/or amusing. This seems to be the main function of the internet (in my house, anyway…..) and now we have this book. A collection of dogs shaking. I can’t quite decide which is my favourite – Buddy Nixon, the pug who bears an uncanny resemblance to Gollum, London and Ramen Noodle, who don’t seem to let a shortage of limbs hold them back in the shaking department, or Greta and Minute Dog, Hungarian Pulis (or possibly mops, it is hard to tell). My shortlist would have to include KaDee the Springer (because he reminds me of my sister’s dog, Bilbo), Horus the Great Dane (who looks very much like Shadow, sadly no longer with us) and Zorro the Saluki (who looks like the dog version of a model tossing her hair around in a shampoo advert) but I think my absolute top dog is Howard. I think I’d would be hard pushed to say what breed he is (most of them, probably) and he is not a beautiful dog but I do love the photo.
This book is mostly about the photos but the photographer does include a few pages telling us about why and how she created the images. Apparently 70% of the dogs are rescue animals but I would say 100% of them are much-loved pets….