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I read over 100 books a year. Here are my thoughts on the best (and worst).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Farewell, Bookdog

Bookdog's adventures were formerly catalogued in Scarlett Thomas's entertaining Bookgirl blog; she also appeared as a character in Scarlett's novel Our Tragic Universe, so her literary credentials were impeccable. I knew that Bookdog was ill but hoped to see her one last time. It wasn't to be.

My first impression of her was aural: howls and piteous wails as she attempted to scrabble her way right through a door. A small, black rescue dog, she had abandonment issues and greeted returning owners and new friends with equal hysteria. The performance would continue with several minutes of salmon-like leaping and balletic pirouettes, expressive of joy and reproach. I have no idea what mixture of breeds she was; but her personality was much bigger than her person.

There was a game she devised, quite a complicated and ritualistic game that involved throwing a tennis ball up the stairs, while she waited at the top in the classic yoga 'downward dog' position. Bounce, trajectory, placement and speed were strictly regulated, and she would wait with steadfast patience for the dim-witted human player to grasp the rules. It was not possible to outlast her enthusiasm for such simple pleasures. Like all dogs, she had a lot to teach restless, unsatisfied human beings. Living in the moment, she was always happy to see what the day would bring, excited to see you arrive and yet unregretful to see you depart.

In Our Tragic Universe, 'B' has an appetite for literature - literally. 'I opened the door to find B waiting for me, with bits of shredded book-proof everywhere,' says Meg, the writer-narrator. 'B loved books, but particularly proofs, with their cheap, shiny paper, even more than she loved the filled bones they sold in the market on Saturday.' All that is left unshredded is the press release: 'Apparently, what B had eaten this time was "Futuristic noir for a post-MTV, post-Cyberpunk generation".'

Later in the novel, Meg flees with all her belongings, which fit into 'three cardboard boxes and one big suitcase. B had a little box of her own, containing her blanket, three tennis balls in various states of existence, her rubber ball, two half-chewed pieces of rawhide, her bag of dog biscuits and the two tins of food that were left in the cupboard.' Our last glimpse of her is curled up contentedly before the fire. What's key is that B is simply herself, not a symbol or device. Also, fictional dogs frequently die, Scarlett noted, and she was determined that wasn't going to happen to B.

What other great literary hounds are there? Iris Murdoch was good on dogs, I seem to recall. Enid Blyton's rather bland Timmy is other only other one I can think of, but there must be many more...

I like to think of Bookdog in dog-heaven with a small cargo of tennis balls. In any case, she will live on; we can make her come to tail-wagging life again, just by reading Our Tragic Universe.


  1. Not sure these are "great literary hounds" but there are dogs in Dickens (Bulls-eye in "Oliver Twist", Jip in "David Copperfield"). Conan Doyle has Toby in "The Sign of Four" and, of course, the hound in "The Hound of the Baskervilles". My daughter was inconsolable when she thought that Jack, Laura's dog in the "Little House" books, had died during a river crossing. Children's fiction features many memorable dogs: Beatrix Potter's sensible Kep, Dodie Smith's dalmatians, Ludwig Bemelman's Genevieve (from the Madeline stories), J.M. Barrie's Nana. Russian writers feature dogs in their work: Laska in "Anna Karenina" is one example. The most unfortunate dog in fiction? Perhaps the puppy bought by Jay Gatsby as a present for his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. The most pampered? Susan Silverman's dog, Pearl, in Robert B. Parker's later "Spenser" novels.

  2. Clive - that's certainly a comprehensive list! Poor Bulls-eye. And I'd forgotten about Jay Gatsby's dog. I keep thinking of the Skool Dog at St Cake's, Molesworth's immortal alma mater, but I'm not sure he had a name...

  3. I think there was also a dog in 'Great Expectations' but he didn;t even get a name, as far as I can remember. He only got two mentions - it was as if Dickens forgot he'd been written in or something.

  4. Oh, and there was another nameless dog in 'I am Legend'. It was an important character inasmuch as it gave Neville someone to relate to, and was quite important to the plot.