This novel defies genre, and if you read it, I defy you to ever forget it. Thank you to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the DRC. I received an advance copy free in exchange for a fair review, and I can tell you, this one’s a keeper, and it is for sale to the public today.
Our protagonist, who tells the whole story start to finish without any other significant characters apart from his memory of them, is “…not the kind of person who is able to do things.” He lives independently in a coastal village in England, subsisting on government aid, the rent paid by the tenants in the building his father left him, and the money he has tucked away, bit by bit, over the course of his fifty-seven years. There is black mold in his house, and plenty of grit and grime, but he is left alone and can fend for himself, eating from cans and frying sausages. His greatest fear is of children, because he was bullied as a child and is certain—correctly, perhaps—that if children were to see him now, they’d do the same. His loneliness is so intense that he has purchased picture frames and kept the inset photos of the models used to sell the frames. There they are in his living room, these strangers under glass. Faces to look at.
On one of his quiet trips to the neighborhood thrift store, he sees a sign offering a free dog; it’s to go to a home without small children or other pets. He thinks to himself that a terrier might help with his rat problem. As soon as he arrives, he hears the disparaging way the shelter employee refers to this dog, which would be put to sleep the following day if not adopted; the employee seems to think this might not be a bad plan, since the “little bugger” had nipped him. Our lonely man peeks in at the matted fur, the “maggot nose”, the missing eye, and he realizes he has found a kindred spirit.
The language with which the story is told reminds me of James Joyce in its luminous quality and word play, but is more accessible than Joyce, and friendlier toward its reader. Animal stories, which this partly is, are often overly sentimental, but the violins don’t wail at us here. It’s the story of One Eye, but it is also the story of our lonely man, whose history gradually unfolds as the story is told.
I cannot help but think that were this protagonist real, and were he in the USA instead of the UK, he would likely either be in prison or homeless.
I read a great deal, and the truth is, now that I am the same age as our protagonist, I forget more of the DRC’s I read than I remember. A few months after I’ve read them, most are a bit foggy. A year later, I may have to check my records to be sure I have even read this book or that one. But perhaps a dozen or so each year stand out in bold relief, stories that will make me tell friends and family, “Ohhh, you have to read that one!”
This is one of those.
I would qualify my recommendation to say that because of some of the terrible things that happen in our protagonist’s history, I would not offer this title to your precocious young reader without first reading it yourself. Also, of course, this might not prove a good choice to those that for personal or religious reasons, simply detest dogs.
Apart from these narrow confines, I recommend this book wholeheartedly to one and all. It’s absolutely matchless.