Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

This is an odd one to try to explain to people.

 Lily and the Octopus is about Ted, who talks to his dachshund, Lily, and thinks he can hear her talking back. It’s unclear whether he genuinely believes she is talking to him, or if it’s just how he copes. At the beginning of the book, Ted notices a tumour on Lily’s head, although he doesn’t name it, instead seeing it as an octopus, which shortly also begins talking to him.

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It sounds strange, but it really works. I want to say it’s a brilliant exploration into mental health, but again we’re unsure what exactly is going on with Ted. He seems to know that the octopus isn’t really an octopus, but he insists on calling it that whenever he discusses it with people. He acknowledges his struggles, asking his friend if he thinks he is crazy. Traditionally in literature, acknowledging the possibility that one might be ‘crazy’ usually means that they are not. It’s the most effective case of an unreliable narrator that I’ve encountered for a long time.

In November I fell in love with my own dachshund puppy, so I found this book heart-wrenching to read. I wanted to keep reading because it was so good, but at times it caused me real pain – I don’t think I’ve ever reacted like this to a book before, where I loved it but at the same time, I almost didn’t like it. It felt like I was reading about my own little puppy.

When I got to the end and read the author’s note, I was so pleased to find that it was the author’s own story (octopus possibly additional). I love that, because there is nothing more interesting than real life. I always find the best books are those that deal with ordinary people going through their ordinary lives, and the extraordinary ways in which they deal with whatever’s thrown at them.

(The exception, obviously, is Harry Potter. Not so ordinary.)

I don’t really have anything bad to say about it, aside from the genuine pain it caused in my chest. (I cuddled my sausage dog for two days’ straight afterwards.) Read this book!

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