By Nila Nealy, principal and brand strategist of TwentyTwo, a brand consultancy specializing in brand strategy, identity and communications. This review was also posted on Nila’s blog, The Human Condition.
I can’t say exactly what took me so long to read this book. It had been sent as an advance galley copy by the publisher on my request through LibraryThing. The offer description appealed to me with it’s promise of animal companions and the I Ching. Perhaps it was simply the timing. I received the book in July shortly after I’d left my job. And things rather suddenly became tumultuous in the life of someone very close to me. I was soul searching, supporting the same for someone else – and I didn’t quite want the distraction of escaping into someone’s fictional story.
About a week or so ago when the turmoil in my loved one’s life came to a conclusion of sorts, I was ready to read something besides blogs, articles and books on brand, business and health. So, I pulled my copy of A Year of Cats and Dogs by Margaret Hawkins from the shelf.
I very quickly connected with Maryanne, the main character who tells her story first person, memoir style. She brought a knowing smile to my face as she related how she just passed through a major transition in her life and then chose to go through another. What she discovers about herself and her immediate world reminded me to accept and believe. The book isn’t all lesson, however. In large part, it is simply enjoyable with language that paints word pictures I’m still holding in my mind, having laid the book to rest around 1:00 this morning.
The author uses a few devices to advance the book and add layers of understanding, the two most notable being those I mentioned earlier – animals and the I Ching. While the I Ching does show up in the text, it is mostly found as the chapter titles, corresponding to each of the 64 hexagrams in the Chinese divination system. The I Ching is also known as the Book of Changes, an apt parallel to the year Maryanne shares with readers. Her relationship with her cat Clement and several dogs, especially Bob, Gregoire and Harvey are key to the self-discovery Maryanne experiences as well as much of the action in the book.
I read A Year of Cats and Dogs over about five or six sessions, mostly as my evening relaxation reading. I’m not a particularly fast reader, with fiction especially, so you may find it faster for you. I find that I like to re-read a section or pause to take in the images or feelings of what I’ve read. As with all fiction (that I like), I had to force myself to call a break for sleep after an hour or so. I could have easily stayed up in to the wee hours reading it from cover to cover.
I’m neither a voracious fiction reader nor particularly critical of literary conventions. What I do want are books that offer glimpses into the human condition through character studies, relationships and symbolism. A Year of Cats and Dogs met my reading requirements nicely.