I always enjoy reading the posts for Non Fiction November so I thought I’d get organised and actually take part this year. This week’s theme is book pairings and is hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves.
I often find when I read novels that they inspire me to want to know more about a subject. Serendipity brought me both these audiobooks which are about many things but are linked by the theme of dogs.
The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker, narrated by Jonathan Aris and David John
The Last Dog on Earth was on my library’s audiobook app. It’s a bit outside my usual genres and I probably wouldn’t have bought it, so I’m grateful for the lucky find. It’s a dystopian novel narrated by Reginald and his dog, Lineker.
They are living an isolated life in a Peckham flat in a deserted block, scrabbling to survive. As Reginald’s story emerges, you learn both more about the social upheaval and about his personal reasons for staying aloof. One day a small child appears in their building, alone and helpless. This forces Reginald, and therefore Lineker, to confront his fear of what’s outside, so he can find sanctuary for the child.
If you’re thinking a dog narrator sounds cute or whimsical, think again. Lineker is alternately sensuous, philosophical and profane. He waxes lyrical on the scents of decay and bodily fluids and casts a satirical eye on humans and their foibles, while being unstinting in his devotion to Reginald.
The audiobook narration is great, and really brings out the contrasting voices of the energetic Lineker and the low-key but resolute Reginald.
Lineker devotes a lot of thought to the nature of the human/dog bond, and his fear and hatred of his wild wolf cousins is an interesting counterpoint to the prejudice that lurks in this dystopia. So that inspired me to want to know more about the relationship between humans, dogs and wolves.
Tamed by Alice Roberts narrated by the author
Shortly afterwards I was listening to Alice Roberts being interviewed on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. (If you haven’t listened, he has a fascinating range of guests, and often the non-comedians are the most interesting.) Roberts talked about Tamed and it sounded like a way to learn the truth behind Lineker and his musings.
Tamed looks at ten animals and crops which were changed by their interaction with humans. In fact in the last chapter, she considers the ways in which humans have ‘tamed’ themselves. During the interview she said that she meant to write around 10,000 words on each but became so fascinated researching the chapter on dogs that she wrote around 30,000 words.
The book is a fascinating mix of science, archaeology and history, written in an accessible and engaging style — and brilliantly narrated by Roberts. She tells us not just what is known, but how we know it, and is happy to explain where there is disagreement or uncertainty. She also debunks some old myths. In the chapter on potatoes, I learnt that Walter Raleigh did not introduce them to Europe, as I read in my much loved Ladybird book, and now feel my whole childhood was a lie.
Roberts also humanises the accounts, and reminds us of the way in which our ancestors were both different and like us. Wolves and humans may have initially formed alliances because they recognised the benefits of hunting together. But maybe humans were also drawn to dogs’ wild ancestors because they offered companionship, or because their young were cute and cuddly, just as we are today.