FATE LENDS A HAND….AND THE KITCHEN SINK TOO!
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN BY GARTH STEIN
……..I’d expected to be challenged in reading this book, by what Samuel Taylor Coleridge named “the willing suspension of disbelief”, because one of the two main characters in the book is Enzo, a talking dog who is the narrator of the story. So was I able to suppress any tendency to simply think this wasn’t plausible………………………………. …………………..a little surprisingly not only was I able to suspend my disbelief, it was easy, because I really loved Enzo the talking dog!
……………………………………………….while I could suspend my disbelief for Enzo, I couldn’t do it for the other main character, Denny Swift, Enzo’s owner….for this guy must be the unluckiest character ever in fiction. This is a man so beset by woes and tragedy they ought to be considering renaming Murphy’s Law….this is a man so mired in catastrophe and ill fate that 2000 years ago, Publilius Syrus, the Roman writer must have been thinking of Denny Swift when he said “Fate is not satisfed with inflicting one calamity!”. For nobody in fiction or real life has ever suffered quite the catalogue of calamities that beset Denny Swift!!!
Enzo tells their story when he is in his twilight years and he has two things keeping him going – firstly his memories of life with Denny, Denny’s wife Eve and their daughter Zoe and secondly his belief that when he dies he will be reincarnated as a human. Enzo charts their ups (of which they have a few!) and their downs (of which they have WAY too many to mention!) – but he does so much more than simply tell their story, for Enzo the dog observes, analyses, interprets, philosophises and above all feels, in ways which he thinks are like a human, but are in reality way beyond what most people would notice!
Costis Mitsotakis thought he was unlucky when he was the sole inhabitant WITHOUT A TICKETwhen the whole Spanish village where he lived won hundreds of millions in their national lottery.....but he's not as unlucky as Denny Swift!
Denny and Enzo start with a shared passion – cars – or more specifically racing them! From video games, to races on TV, to his stints in a touring car, Denny is obessed with racing cars in all forms of motorsport and Enzo shares his love and his ambition, charting his desperate efforts to make it to the peak of the sport as a racing driver! Then Denny falls in love with Eve who doesn’t become a shared passion though but when Eve gives birth to a daughter, Enzo and Denny can definitely get back to sharing their passion for her almost as much as their passion for racing cars.
The bond between Enzo and Denny is exceptionally strong, and as a dog owner and dog lover myself, I think Garth Stein brilliantly captures the all encompassing and unconditional love that we dog owners have for our four legged family members. So when Eve has an accident at home cutting her hand and is subsequequently diagnosed with a serious illness, the story has its tragic contrast with which to test that unbreakable bond between dog and master. And had he stopped there it would have really worked for me because initially this introduction of the dark heart in the form of Eve’s illness was really well used to show just how Enzo steps up to the plate and can be relied on. Alas…..Eve’s illness is only the first in what soon becomes an endless line of tragedy waiting to rein in the hapless Denny Swift!
‘Calamity’ John Lyne thought he was unlucky after 16 major accidents including three car crashes, getting hit by lightning AND trapped by a rock fall……but he’s not as unlucky as Denny Swift!
Roy Sullivan, a US Park Ranger probably thought he was unlucky in defying odds of 22 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 to 1 (that's 22 SEPTILLION TO ONE!) cos Roy got hit by lightning SEVEN times - but he's not as unlucky as Denny Swift as the calamities he suffers are well beyond odds of 22 Septillion to one!
Beyond the difficulty I had in just accepting the appaling run of fate that befalls Denny, it seemed to me to also distort other things in order to ‘fit’ the story. So for example, beautiful, loving, affectionate Eve’s parents turn out to be a cross between Cruella De Ville, and The Twits! Their characters are turned into what for me felt like almost a charicature. There are also doggedly-loyal mates, sleazeball lawyers, inept policemen, crazy attention-seeking kids and even the top brass from Ferrari’s home factory at Marinello in Italy put in appearances! It’s a bit ‘chuck the kitchen-sink at it’ and for me it just undid all the work that had been put into the character of Enzo the dog.
Enzo the dog is simply great – I loved him. He’s very sharp and shrewd, never short of a thought or opinion, he experiences every emotion we do and then some, even though he’s a dog! His observations on the behaviour, mannerisms and speeches of we humans are really very clever and amusing, but where he really comes into his own for me is his little insights into what dogs think of being a dog, his judgements and explanations about the behaviour of dogs are very funny and by turns I also found his affection and love for his family to be moving and touching. Against all my expectations he’s just so believable. Denny on the other hand was just an irritation to me – he’s either inspid and passive or he’s a bit John McClane in the Die Hard films!
In the end The Art of Racing In The Rain fell down for me because so much sublety, craft, emotion and complexity had gone into the character of Enzo that there was nothing left for the other characters, who are all a bit wooden, cliched or one dimensional as a result. It’s not an unpleasant experience to read Racing In The Rain but equally I didn’t find it the emotional experience that I think others may have done. But if you’re a dog lover read it anyway just for the sheer joy you’ll get from Enzo – and if you’re like me it might just make that love you have for your own dog even stronger – I’ll never look at my dog Beau in quite the same way ever again – and there are very few books I can say that about!!!!!!!
Book RatingThe Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein was published in 2009 in the UK by Harper Collins
and I bought it with my own hard earned dosh!
There are several bloggers who’ve already reviewed ‘The Art of Racing In The Rain’ so if you want to find out more about it you could try Books On The Table (where you’ll get a review of Art of Racing AND another Garth Stein book ‘A Sudden Light’ or try Lovely Literature where you will get both a review and LOTS of great photos of dogs! Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)
Overall, on my rating scale, I’d give Enzo on his own a ten! Alas I’d give Denny Swift a one!
So overall I’ve split the difference!