**this post contains spoilers**
When people first see Mann’s Best Friend, they often say, “Oooh, a dog book!”
They usually say it with enthusiasm and interest, but it makes us cringe a little bit. Because Mann’s Best Friend might not be the ‘dog book’ they are expecting.
True, it is a story about a man and his dog. But the relationship between this man and this dog is in peril — Terry is short-tempered and resentful, Eric is bewilderingly difficult and unappealing. They live alone together, sending one another dark looks.
Eric is not the only problem in Terry’s life, but he has become a metaphor for Terry’s failures. Where once Eric had been a bundle of joy and hope, he has become symbolic of a bad idea, a failed relationship, and an enormous misreading of the hopes and dreams of Terry’s ex. He has become an albatross. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), an albatross is hung around its guilty killer’s neck and so the bird’s dead weight has come to symbolise a psychological burden that feels like a punishment or curse.
So when assorted misfortunes and injustices tip Terry over the edge, he takes it out on Eric.
What he does next, for some readers, is unforgivable. It is un crime passionel, a moment of madness, an impulse of moral turpitude. Those who see dogs as pure and faithful innocents who deserve only our kindness find it hard to understand.
“A person who causes the suffering of animals because of their own frustrations is so morally repugnant there can be no redemption… Terry should be punished and never forgiven” @ClassicKitteh
But Sophie thinks everyone is redeemable, and it is how we respond to our own mistakes that reveals true moral character. Terry doesn’t get much time to think about that, because the disaster that is his life unravels faster than he can say “what have I done?”
Terry meets his saviour in Mia. “I hate people,” she says, “that’s why I spend my time with plants and animals”. But she sees something in Terry — perhaps his hopelessness, or his role as ‘black sheep’ of his family — something that makes her take pity, and help him make reparations for his heinous crime.
So if you were looking for an uplifting book about adorable puppies, you may have come to the wrong place. Even Eric is missing-in-action for more than one-third of the story. But if you like your stories with a strong sense of place, some vibrant characters and a good dollop of family discord, then Mann’s Best Friend could be just what you have been looking for.
Jo Good & Anna Webb – Barking Hour, BBC Radio London – 14 September 2017:
“It’s a fantastic book. It’s the modern world, and it’s juggling office life and problems in the office, and dramas and stress with living with a dog … and the relationship breaks down. But what happens, the bit I really love, is that through the breaking down of the relationship the protagonist in the book actually realises the reality of the world, and that his heart belongs to his dog.”
“Occasionally I stumble across a book that hits a chord. A book that I want to shout about because it deserves a much wider audience. This is one of those books”
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