The art of racing in the rain

I saw a review on television some time ago of Garth Stein's bestseller The art of racing in the rain. The plot about a dog with a penchant for motor racing sounded like an ideal present for a friend of mine, who is into dogs and Formula I, and led to one of the year's more weird conversations in a bookshop when I went to buy it just before Christmas 2014...

Me: I'm wondering if you have this book in stock, it was reviewed on TV a while ago by Clare Balding...but I can't remember what it's called or who it's by or what the name of the review programme was.

Book-seller: Ummmm.

Me: Yes, I'm sorry. I'm a librarian, I know what it's like when people ask daft questions like that. I do know what it's about though.... It's about a dog and he likes motor racing - Formula I....Though come to think of it, he's an American dog, so it may be NASCAR. And I think he's a whippet....though maybe not. And I seem to remember there's something to do with umbrellas, though not sure about that either. I'm sorry, it all sounds rather daft.

Book-seller: Well, it's not exactly The Brothers Karamazov (don't you just hate book-snobbery - it so annoyed and non-plussed me that I didn't even mention that I had actually read TBK, so go boil-your-head Mr. Book-Snob!)

Book-seller was pretty grumpy, but then thankfully his rather more helpful assistant appeared, who recognised Stein's bestseller, which had been on the New York Times bestseller list for 156 weeks. Partly because of the oddities of the bookshop, I ended up with two copies of the novel, one for the friend and one for me, but then events conspired so that I didn't read it for some time. I knew the basic plot line was about a dying dog (the tale is told from Enzo (named after Enzo Ferrari), the dog's, perspective), and his memories of his time with his family. Shortly after buying the book my dog, Dylan, became seriously ill and died (for more on Dills see here and here). And then, just when I was finally about to read it, my beloved Alfie Spaniel (who could be a bit of a stand-in for Enzo) passed away. It was all too raw.

But casting around for a new read after finishing The Axeman's jazz, I spotted it on my TBR pile, and decided it was time to try it again. It wasn't easy, I spent the first few chapters, as Enzo prepares to go on a one-way trip to the vets, sobbing unashamedly; but then as Enzo starts to think back on his life I realised how much I loved this book. Yes, there are moments that are sentimental, there are moments that will make anyone who has ever been owned by a dog or a cat or a goldfish weep, but The art of racing in the rain is a gloriously warm, uplifting novel too, whether or not you've ever had a pet. It's about family and friendship, and life - both the good and the bad bits. It's about love and ambition, and hope.

Enzo lives with his owner, Denny, a talented racing driver, who is trying to make it into the big-time. Enzo is the stable element in Denny's life as he stands by him through love, marriage, children and loss. An opinionated hound, Enzo's comments and philosophy of life are scattered throughout the narrative from the "art of racing in the rain" (or why Ayrton Senna was such a great driver - am in total agreement with Enzo here, as I too was a big fan of the mercurial and mesmerising Brazilian - you can see a clip of Enzo's favourite race, which also happens to be one of mine, below) to his views on controlling your fears. There are some wonderfully funny moments: I giggled like crazy at Enzo's embarrassment over his stuffed animal (I suspect Alfie Spaniel would have been very similar).

Enzo is a big-hearted fun character, and Stein's clever use of a dog as the central character allows him to write about what's good about being alive in a way that he wouldn't have been able to if the character had been human. It also allows him to write about family both from the inside, and also from the perspective of a character who's slightly on the outside looking in. It's often very funny, but there's also a serious side to the novel - it's a much more serious book than the strange sounding plot might suggest. A truly magical fable, so don't be put off by the book-snobs. It's wonderfully life-affirming, and despite sobbing at the beginning and the end, unexpectedly joyous. I absolutely adored it. It's the sort of book that feels like a warm blanket on a cold day. Another mug of chicken soup for the soul.


I don't think I'll be reading the dog book, but I very much sympathize over the bookseller - one of my unimportant grievances is that they get so cross about people not knowing the details. well isn't it their job to help, no matter how 'silly' the question? Before now I (a customer) have intervened to help out - because I read a lot of book reviews and blogs and might have recognized the description. If I had a bookshop I'd be proud of my ability to track down any old book!
Margaret Jones said…
Yes, I've been exactly the same re helping out in bookshops. As a librarian I know that you do get some extremely weird descriptions usually along the lines of "It's yellow, and so high, and I don't know what it was about but I think it was when I was researching such and such" but it still gives me a great feeling personally when I finally work out what it is and hand to happy reader.

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