Professional dog walker. Is that a thing? Are most dog walkers maintaining their amateur status to compete in the Dog Walking Olympics.
Lily and the Octopus
Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: Jun 7, 2016
Given that it is still five months until this book comes out, it is odd that I was hearing about this book almost a year ago. By the end of the year it was already garnering ‘book of the year’ type plaudits from those who had read galley copies, including Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking trilogy ) in the Guardian’s author’s books of the year round up back in December who said “I also read what might be my favourite book of next year: Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus (Simon & Schuster), about a man whose dog’s cancer takes the form of an evil talking octopus. Yep. Weird, hilarious, and you’ll cry all over everything.”
Sounded like my kind of thing, so I searched on NetGalley and there is was. I was also fascinated by it for an even simpler reason. My best friend for the first 10 year of my life was a guy called Stephen Rowley. Born one day apart, lived in the same street. That simple reminder of long ago also drew me to this novel. And … well, let’s come to that; first what’s the book about.
As Ness said, at its heart it is the simple tale of a man whose dog gets a tumour, and how that impacts his life. The man, Ted, not only talks to his dog – a dachshund called Lily – but images full conversations and shared activities with her: Pizza nights, monopoly nights – “Do you want me to roll for you?” “Does it look like I’ve suddenly grown hands?” and also just has set days for doing things: “Thursdays are the days my dog Lily and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.”
But one morning Ted notices Lily has an octopus on her head. What follows is a look back on how Lily came into Ted’s life, Ted’s past relationships, his current emotional state and a story of love and companionship. I don’t really want to say much more than that really, as the book does go off at some interesting tangents, that are best experienced through reading the book.
What the book does well is to get across just how decapacitating loss can be, and how we use things to withdraw from real life, into a seemingly real alternate existence often without realising it. It also addresses the often connected issue of how we hold onto anger: ” I am so very small. Physically small, but also petty. Why am I driven more by revenge than by forgiveness?”, and how that can anchor us to the past instead of freeing us to live in the present and future. This is not to say this is a depressing book, as despite its central subject matter and inevitable ending, this is a surprisingly funny book (the octopus get’s some great dialogue).
There is no doubt that the book will strike a chord both with those of us who have lost beloved pets down the years – I have – but also other (human) loved ones, especially to cancers. There is a genuine warmth to Rowley’s writing. In his author’s note he says his aim when writing the story was ‘to strive for emotional truth’ no matter where that took the story. Given some of the places the book goes, you can’t say he doesn’t keep to his aim. And, you do need to be a pretty cold fish not to be moved by at least some of the book. I will admit some tears were shed in the latter parts of this book.
Despite that I’m not sure I have felt the love for the book other pre-publication readers clearly have. I liked it, yes; loved it? Not really. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely.
If you’re on Netgalley it’s worth checking it out and making up your own mind, for everyone else, expect to be hearing a lot about this book in the second half of this year. Maybe an outside bet for the Booker longlist too.
Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster/NetGalley