“The Dogs Who Came to Stay”

A friend sent me a book to read and comment on.  Here is what I emailed back to him.
Dear Joe
You asked for my thoughts on the book by George Pitcher.  I whizzed through it in a day – it’s that kind of book.  I think I had feelings and reactions rather than thoughts, because I took a bit of a dislike to the author.  He seems unaware of the rest of the world, but also quite unwilling to  open up about the interesting bits within himself.  Perhaps he has a wide circle of friends who all urged him to write it, but at the end of the day the memoir just isn’t his medium.  (Joyce Carol Oates for goodness sake!  And Anthony Storr comments on the endpapers.  What’s that about?)  And indeed he does seem to be a bit of namedropper (though trying hard not to be).  It’s a very old book by a very old person – who else would call a longstanding gay relationship “two bachelors”?  I can understand his wish for concealment, but I don’t like the feeling it gave me.
Writing style: educated amateur/ banal.  The topic calls for much more poetic diction and for some richness.  As we say in the trade ‘show don’t tell’.
content: he mentions life and death, and the fact that dogs can teach us a lot about these things.  But somehow choosing not to get stuck in to that idea – not to philosophise it, I guess – diminishes it.  The story of the dogs would have something, if the writing was stronger, but as it is we have fairly low-grade natter.
Books about practical topics have the opportunity to inform – but he doesn’t get into that.  I have found the same problem with books about canal boating: neither poetic enough, nor informative enough.  Either focus would be great, but a skimpy bit of both doesn’t cut it. Maybe reading the sensitive and complex Kathleen Jamie has spoiled me for less skilled matter.  (Do you know her stuff? – the prose, I mean, more than the poetry.  Blackwells shelves her work, Findings, under “Travel Writing”, which is misleading, almost perverse).
I do know of a work that does these things really well – but it’s a film – called ‘My Dog Tulip’ – very clever cartoon/animation, based on material by J R Ackerley, who really can write.  The film trailer is a bit American – the film is better and more creative than the trailer – but this gives you an idea.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-CEDsZstdI .  Ackerley too describes himself as a ‘bachelor’ – but I don’t mind that from 1956, especially when his insights can be so neatly and beautifully put forward.  The American voiceover pre-judges and falsely contextualises – try to ignore that, and get hold of the film!
Tulip
(Actually I didn’t send him this picture – I added it for the blog.)
 
Your word was disappointed – I’m thinking frustrated.  It’s on its interrupted way to Oxfam now.
(I hope you get it that I thoroughly enjoyed tearing it to shreds! Thank you for the opportunity!)
All good wishes  for Xmas!

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