Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Novels about pets getting ill has never really been a category that appeals to me. The inevitable combination of sadness and positivity and the probable lack of much else is not something I’ve looked for. However, I was recommended Lily and the Octopus by someone who is exceptionally good at recommending books, so I didn’t doubt that it would be good. What it turned out to be, in fact, was a novel about coping mechanisms, loss, and hope that really gets inside how people think, grieve, and try to make deals with life.
The unreliable narration makes this book, because it allows for the processes people go through to try and deal with awful things to become the novel. You know from the start what the narrator is doing, but you can’t blame him because it feels so real. Whilst pet owners will understand the relationship between Ted and Lily and how their conversations are written, anyone who has ever tried to deal with something by trying to rewrite it in some way will understand how Lily and the Octopus is written.
Whilst it is not surprising how the book will move forward, it is the getting there that is the experience, the capturing of emotion and brain processes and how people tie things together and see them as interconnected. The ending (enjoyably for me) references another famous dog owner, Lord Byron, which I assume is there to chasten me for forgetting that I was already interested in an author who mentions his dogs. Even if – like me – you’ve no particular interest in a book about an animal getting ill, I still recommend Lily and the Octopus as a book about how we think and process things and also about hope and relationships. Also if you like dogs, I guess.