My Dog Tulip
An absolutely essential thing to say about this memoir before I talk about it is that JR Ackerley is an older British man living in a society that has a different set of values about dogs than we do now. Two points: they didn’t pick up their dogs’ poop. The didn’t really ever get their dogs fixed. Both of these come up in detail. He absolutely describes his dog going into heat with some specific and physical detail and it is off-putting. He also definitely describes his dog’s poop and it’s done in a very British and very funny way. “A solid motion.”
That disclosure aside, this book is incredibly funny and incredibly sweet. JR Acklerley known for a few other memoirs, journalism, and one novel becomes the owner of his first dog, an Alsatian, when he’s about 60 in 1955 or so. He falls immediately and madly in love with her. He loves that she’s beautiful, he loves that she needed him to rescue her (he definitely says rescue), and he loves that she takes over his life. He’s never had a dog before, has no idea what he’s doing, and becomes so devoted that he’s worried about her well-being because he feels like her love for him becomes an anchor in her life that leaves her open to being hurt (which of course is what is necessarily true about all love and what’s great about it). So he bumbles forward and tells us what he learns as he goes along. His narration is incredibly heartfelt and passionate and his style is like a Romantic poet using classical allusions to describe Tulip and her behaviors. The effect is a kind overly-indulgent almost mock heroic (mocking the heroic, not Tulip). He is ultimately very concerned with her breeding, but he loses this interest when he realizes that she doesn’t care too much about pups. He sort of comes to the implicit conclusion that were Nature not demanding her body to go into heat a few times a year they would all be better off. He feels like he missed his calling as the best dog owner in the world by a few decades. Ultimately I was very charmed and very amused. There’s a different ethos about dog owning and like with just about any book where an ethos is changing, it can be a little frustrating dealing with his different worldview, but he’s already among the best of his time, and by far not the worst of ours.
Hindoo Holiday 4/5
Some more things to know about this: JR Ackerley makes no pretense whatsoever about knowing much about Hindu culture, India, or the men and women he’s profiling in this novel. And that’s sort of the fun.
After his soldiering is done in 1918, JR Ackerley wants to get away so he signs up to be a kind of attache to a Maharajah in an un-named (or more specifically pseudonymously named Chockripur). What follows is 300 pages of absurdity in which the Maharajah attempts through various misadventures to gain power, exert power, and gain legitimacy as a ruler and becomes a kind of mirror held up to both the pressing weight of modernity in the face of British Empire rule as well as a mirror to that very empire itself. The writing is generally hilarious…very inappropriate at times, and consistently uncomfortable.
There’s a LOT of orientalism going on here, but of course as even Edward Said talks about, that doesn’t mean it can’t be good writing.
All around, I can’t tell you everything that really happens in this novel because a lot of it contained in bizarre conversation, JR Acklerley’s inability to speak meaningfully on the culture of India, and even his discomfort with a masculine culture exerting heteronormativity (he is gay and not out in public because of British law), and so the result is madcap, funny, and just a good book. It’s an experience to be sure.