When I first started reading this, I felt that had the growth on the dog’s head not been called an octopus, the book wouldn’t have been at all interesting. It was just a story about a man who discovers that his beloved pet has a growth, presumably a tumour. Calling it an octopus gave a quirky magical realism feel to the story, but it wasn’t enough to keep me reading, so I put the book down and read something else for a while.
I thought I wouldn’t return to this story, but it occurred to me that since Simon and Schuster had published it, it must have something more in store. Had it been self-published and not from an author I knew, I would have stopped reading because I would have had no guarantee that it was worth continuing with. So, trusting in the evaluation of the editorial team at Simon and Schuster, I picked it up again, and I was glad I did.
The story remained a simple one of a man coming to terms with the inevitable death of his aging pet. The fact that he called the tumor an octopus allowed a long section where he went to sea in a boat and battled the beast, an extended metaphor, magical realism style, for his mental processing. It was a great section, very appealing for me as an author who loves analogies and extended metaphors and writes magical realism herself. It also allowed for a growing tension as the book neared its conclusion. At that point I developed an admiration for the author’s ability to do this in such a simple story—an admiration that increased when I got to the very moving end.
This is undoubtably a book for pet lovers, because most of us will outlive our pets and face the same very real challenges as the protagonist here. His contemplations on the inevitability of death are something worthwhile for everyone to consider, and not just for their pets, but for themselves and all their loved ones.
In summary, though I would have liked more of a hook in the beginning—perhaps hints of the magical realism to come—the book ended up being well worth a read, and due to the depth of the treatment of the subject matter, the skillful way the author built the pacing and tension, and the brilliant handling of the end, I’ll give it 5 stars.