Dog people, be prepared to cry. I honestly don’t know why I thought it’d be a good idea to listen to Lily and the Octopus on my commute, it was hard to resist turning into a blubbering mess. Lily is an ageing Dachshund, much-loved by owner Ted, and the octopus is a tumour.
When I held my new puppy in my arms, I broke down in tears. Because I had fallen in love. Not somewhat in love. Not partly in love. Not in a limited amount. I fell fully in love with a creature I had known for all of nine hours.
Of course to Ted, he thinks it’s an octopus on Lily’s head but to the reader I think it’s obvious from the get go what it is. It’s both a metaphor and a sign of Ted’s denial. Since breaking up with his boyfriend, Ted has been single, going through the process of online dating with little enthusiasm. But Lily is always there for him.
There are several ways to read this book, some might call it fantastical or magical realism, but I didn’t see Lily as a talking dog, just like I didn’t believe the octopus was an actual octopus. I project a voice onto Scully, have conversations with her, as I’m sure many dog owners do, so it seemed normal for Lily to have a voice.
To focus, I think of how dogs are witnesses. How they are present for our most private moments, how they are there when we think of ourselves as alone. They witness our quarrels, our tears, our struggles, our fears, and all of our secret behaviors that we have to hide from our fellow humans. They witness without judgement.
If you read the octopus as real then you miss out of some of the heart-breaking signs of detioration within Lily. It’s a story about coming to terms with the loss of a dog, of when to let go. It’s one of the saddest books I’ve ever read, because you just know there’s not going to be a miraculous recovery.
It’s based on the real life Lily, Steven Rowley’s Dachshund. You can tell it’s somewhat based on experiences. It doesn’t shy away from some of the less joyous aspects of dog ownership. Earlier in her life, Lily suffers from paralysis, something that is a common problem in the breed. You hear about the high cost of vet bills and there’s always going to be that moment when you have to apply a financial value on your dog’s life.
Lily’s voice is adorable, and spot on. She shouts staccato with excitement, especially in her puppy years when dogs find everything exciting. I found the narrator’s tone a little cynical but it fits with the character.
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Book Source: Purchased