Monday, 6 December 2010

Book Review - The Starlight Barking

The Starlight Barking by Dodie Smith

ISBN 1-4052-2481-9

Many of you will have seen the animated Disney Film “The 101 Dalmatians” with Glenn Close playing the evil Cruella de Vil who stole Dalmatian puppies with the intention of making white and black spotted fur coats. All the puppies were successfully rescued by a Pongo and Perdita two ‘married’ Dalmatians who had initially set out to rescue their own litter of puppies but who eventually rescued all of the stolen dogs which when totalled came to 101 hence the title.
What many people will not realise is that Dodie Smith wrote a sequel – The Starlight barking. Set some time after the rescue (although actually written 11 years later) all the dogs and cats from the original story are happily settled , most still living at the farm owned at the time by Cruella de Vil but now bought by Pongo and Perdita’s owners and turned into a loving family home.
One morning the dogs awake to find that every other living thing is sound asleep and cannot be roused from their slumbers. Pongo and Perdita set out for London where one of their daughters ‘Cadpig’ who was rehomed to the human Prime Minister is trying to find out what has happened to their human pets. The dogs discover that they have mysterious powers such as the ability to cover long distances by ‘swooshing’ and to communicate by telepathic barking. Soon thousands of dogs are converging on London from all corners of the United Kingdom to see if Pongo can discover what is going on.
Before long the reason that only dogs (and certain animals that were given the title of ‘Honorary dogs’ following the original adventure) are awake becomes clear and Dogkind is given the opportunity to leave their human pets behind and live in a world free from hunger and suffering and persecution.
The dogs have an agonising decision to make . . . . . . .
I first read this book as a child many years ago (it was published in 1967 !) and I’m not too proud to say I shed a tear when I read how the dogs came to their decision whether to leave or stay in a world where too often they are mistreated. With so many dog stories on the shelves you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a children’s book from a forgotten generation but you wouldn’t be more wrong. It is as poignant today as it was when I first read it 30 plus years ago and along with “101 Dalmatians” is the forerunner to the current generation of books written from a dogs point of view. So if you are looking for a Christmas present for a child or a grownup who loves dog stories then look no further than “101 Dalmatians” and “The Starlight Barking”. No Dog Lovers book shelf is complete without these two fabulous books.

Book Review - The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

ISBN 978-0-06-202306-3

“In Mongolia when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog’s master whispers into the dog’s ear that the dog will return as a man in his next life. “

“. . . before he is reincarnated, the dog’s soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like”

“Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready. I am ready”

This is the tale of one dog’s journey, Enzo, a Labrador terrier mix who as a puppy is bought by an up and coming semi-professional racing driver called Denny. Early on in his life Enzo watches a television program about Mongolia and reincarnation and realises that he is different from most dogs who act only on instinct . He is able to understand human behaviour and in his own way communicate some of his feelings to his master through body language and gestures. He knows that his life as a dog is just a prelude to something better.

Denny, with the ever faithful Enzo at his side, finds love and happiness with Eve, they start a family and Enzo learns to love them all. Then tragedy strikes and Denny’s life starts falling apart

As things spiral ever downwards it is Enzo that is the glue that holds Denny together. That and their shared love of racing, as despite being a dog Enzo too is captivated by the skill and awareness of one’s body needed to be a top racing car driver. He sees racing as a metaphor for life and realises that the skills needed to be a top race car driver can be applied to everyday living . Anyone can drive fast in the dry but not everyone is able to race when it starts to rain.
I’m the first to admit that this wouldn’t normally be the type of book I’d buy but for some reason the description of the dog’s burial high up in the Mongolian hills captivated me. I’ll also admit that I was initially disappointed as this mystical description was not repeated and the book seemed to be just a description of Enzo and his owner’s life which actually became quite depressing. Now I’m not sure at what point everything clicked but soon the racing metaphors and Enzo’s firm belief that he was more than just a dog but a dog that was ready to return someday as a man made sense and I was actually hooked.

The story is told from Enzo’s point of view and Garth Stein has captured the doggy perspective of everyday life perfectly. This is a bittersweet book which tugs at the heartstrings and will certainly appeal to dog owners everywhere. The detailed descriptions of Denny’s experiences as a race car driver interspersed throughout the book are just enough to make this book readable by male and female alike and I feel without them it would be just a little too sickly sweet to appeal to the more masculine audience.

The Art of racing in the rain is soon to be made into a feature film starring Patrick Dempsey who as well as being an actor is also an up and coming race car driver himself. If you haven’t already read the book (after all it has been in print since 2008) I suggest you grab a copy and read it before the film comes out.
In conclusion I would have to say that this still isn’t my type of book but if you give it a chance it won’t disappoint.