Cats and dogs have been some of the most important people in my life, and I thoroughly approve of anyone who writes with candour about the very special experience of being truly close to an animal. Unfortunately, publishers always need an “angle” – it isn’t enough for a writer to simply pen a memoir-elegy for a cherished pet. I enjoyed John Grogan’s Marley and Me a great deal, but I could never escape the suspicion that its subtitle “Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog” was more a marketing inspiration than an authorial one. Reading the book, it didn’t seem to me that Marley was much more boisterous than most regular, highly pampered, member-of-the-family dogs. I got the impression that Grogan’s editor had said, “Look, we need, ahem, a USP. You told me Marley chewed up a lot of valuable stuff. So can we focus a bit on his naughtiness, play that up a little, and make it seem like that's why the story of this particular dog has to be told?”
One of the things I liked about Habib Rehman’s A Home for Gori – a book about the author's 10-year relationship with his Spitz – was that it didn’t go out of its way to manufacture a “hook” for that troublesome (and hypothetical) creature, the Reader. Certainly, an initial attempt was made to do this. Journalist Kishore Singh, an ex-colleague who helped structure and write the book, admits that he and the publishers had hoped to weave in some information about Rehman’s distinguished career in the hospitality business (he recently retired as director-in-charge of ITC’s hotels, travel and tourism, and food businesses). But only a little of that has made it to the final book, for Rehman stuck to his guns – Gori was to be the focus.
All of which means that A Home for Gori can be a little too particularised in places. Despite a prominent blurb by Outlook magazine’s Vinod Mehta on the cover, I don’t think it will be of much interest to people who aren’t already dog-converts. On the other hand, serious dog-lovers might find the writing a bit restrained. (If there's ever a good case for being unselfconsciously sentimental while writing a memoir, it's in a dog book, because the creatures themselves are so emotionally transparent and guileless.) However, on the whole Rehman's book is a moving account of a relationship that began unpromisingly (he didn't care for small breeds at first) but which grew into something life-enriching. And surely there’s something universal about that theme.