While your dog’s asleep, worn out from his exertions, why not take advantage of the peace to curl up yourself? If you want a book to keep you company, here are some works of fiction (or almost-fiction), each with a doggy main character, for you to enjoy. Some are classics, while others are more recent delights. Ranging from high comedy to horror, via adventure and gentle fun, this list should offer something for all tastes.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
You can never beat The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) on a dark night. This wonderful novella, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featuring Sherlock Holmes, still chills the blood. The detective and his sidekick, Dr Watson, are called from London to Dartmoor, to track “the footprints of a gigantic hound”, in a tale of mist, marsh, and murder.
The Plague Dogs
The Plague Dogs (1977), by Richard Adams, is a dark tale of modern times. Snitter and Rowf escape from an animal-testing laboratory, where they have been damaged, and have to survive in the wild. After attacking sheep, they are hunted as dangerous creatures. The title refers to the humans’ suspicion that the dogs are carriers of a lethal disease.
Red Dog (2001) by Louis de Benières (who wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) is a hilarious set of stories about a renowned canine character of modern Australian folklore. Inspired by seeing a statue of Red Dog, the author searched out and wrote down a collection of short tales about this memorably smelly, greedy, loyal and resourceful creature, which has since been made into a film.
The Hundred and One Dalmatians
The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) is a book you can read to the children and enjoy on another level yourself. Dodie Smith wrote it with one eye on her adult audience, so forget the movie: the original is sharper and funnier. Pongo and Missis set out to find their stolen puppies and get more than they’ve bargained for.
The Bomber Dog
A more recent children’s book is The Bomber Dog (2013), by Megan Rix, interesting because of its setting in Second-World-War France. It tells the story of Grey, a puppy trained by the youthful soldier Nathan, and his dangerous journey across that war-divided country with another dog, Wolf, to find Nathan when luck has turned against him. There are also a number of other dog-centred books by this author.
One of the most loved of all dog books is Virginia Woolf’s Flush (1933), written from the point of view of the spaniel who belonged to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Like his mistress, Flush spent the first part of his life reclining on a London sofa and the second gadding about in Italy, after Elizabeth had eloped with Robert Browning. Fine breeding and fashionable city life, Flush reflects, have their limitations.
A Dog’s Life
Another dog “autobiography” is by Peter Mayle (who wrote A Year in Provence). A Dog’s Life (1995) is about the writer’s French household, told from the point of view of Mayle’s cynical and mischievous pet mongrel. Funny and sunny, this is a book to chortle over on your summer holidays.
Three Men in a Boat
Finally, if it’s classic comedy you’re after, you will enjoy Three Men in a Boat (1889) – subtitled “to say nothing of the dog!”. Although not one of the three, Montmorency, a fox-terrier, is an important fourth character, who causes mayhem by fighting other dogs, chasing cats, getting into the picnic basket and generally ensuring that there is never a dull moment on the river.
Plenty of other books contain wonderful dog characters, of course. Who could forget the loving Nana in Peter Pan; Pilot in Jane Eyre, who so alarms the young governess when she first meets him; or Hagrid’s faithful dog, Fang, in the Harry Potter series? There is plenty to chew on, when it comes to dog books – and I don’t just mean the covers.