Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley

Nine stars

WARNING! Necessary spoilers peppered throughout in order to offer the thorough review this book deserves!

Rowley presents a heart-filled story about Lily the dachshund and her owner, Edward “Ted” Flask. As the novel opens, Flask introduces the reader to Lily and the ‘octopus’ that sits atop her head. This unwelcome cephalopod overtakes Flasks life as he ponders its intrusion into the daily joy he and Lily have created. There is also the undertone of necessary medical options to rid Lily of this most horrendous visitor. Flask switches between flashback moments that include all of his time with Lily and the current narrative that tells the increasingly daunting tale of living with the eight-legged storm cloud. Giving voice to both Lily and the ‘octopus’, Flask is able to vilify the latter while creating an angelic view of the former for readers to love from the safety of their own lives. As the ‘octopus’ takes a deeper hold on Lily, Flask becomes more adamant to exorcise things in the face of a blunt reality that pits an elderly dog against a ruthless killer that cares about nothing but itself. Using wonderful imagery tied to the moniker he chooses, Flask allows the readers to see the multi-faceted battles he has with this creature and the depths to which he will go to protect his best friend from any harm. As Lily remains somewhat naive to what is happening to her, Flask does all he can as a parental unit to soften the blow as he comes to terms with what the future holds. There is no easy road to travel, though Flask does not simply let this beat him, even if the ‘octopus’ does overtake his life before pulling Lily closer towards the brink. A story that even those without an attachment to a pet ought to read at some point in their lives, Rowley stuns readers with his brashness and honest presentation, injecting humour at those times where the tension seems to be too much. Superb seems too bland a word to describe this book, though surely a touched heart will use its own lexicon to express the missing sentiment.

I am not a pet owner, nor have I ever had the ability to fully understand the intricacies of this addition to anyone’s family. I always respected people with these sorts of connections and tried to comprehend the vast emotional investment associated with owning and loving a pet. When I met someone recently who touched my life, she introduced me to a small Lily-like dog, one whose passion for life was stilted when the surgeon’s knife came down to alter his being. While I was not there for the recovery, I had just been there, so I could sense the angst that this person felt for the most important being in her life. As I read more of this book, I grew to better understand her connection with the dog she has had for numerous years, as I did for Ted’s connection to Lily. I could finally wrap my head around the pain of seeing this family member pulled out of their comfortable niche and thrust into a world that we, as cognitive, synthesizing humans can only partially grasp. The complete cluelessness of the animal is only exacerbated by the pain that cannot be adequately explained to our pet and whose own sentiments cannot bear vocalized in anything other than whimpers or barks. Rowley captures this completely as he pushes the reader closer to his two characters, while presenting the indescribable task of trying to rationalize everything and personify the struggle. That Rowley chose never to have Ted utter the word ‘tumour’ is also quite noticeable, and somewhat telling. However, that he chose that name is even more interesting as he personified this thing throughout the novel. His description of it being multi-tentacled and possesses a powerful ink pouch that can blind aptly describes some of the symptoms that can overtake any victim. However, as the reader will discover, Ted also uses this moniker to rid his life of its presence, at least for a time. He can do nothing except watch as Lily is taken over by the tumour, but will not stand by and let its eight-angled grip suck the life out of his best friend, no matter the sacrifice to his own sanity. Gowley brilliantly explores this approach to medical phenomena that leave those afflicted (and affected) helpless to come to terms with the extensive realities that befall diagnoses of this nature.

I cannot put into words how this book moved me, which is shocking for many who know my love for books and lengthy chatter about their intricate nature. I simply read (listened) in awe as the novel progressed and sought to reach out to touch Lily, Ted, and anyone I knew with a pet of their own. I wanted to rush out and get a pet of my own while also cowering in fear as to whether I would become a Ted if I did. How Gowley has made such an impact on me, I will never know. That said, it is a book that is not just a recommendation for anyone I have ever or will ever cross paths with, but a definitely requirement.

Kudos Mr. Gowley for helping my eyes to water and my jaw to plummet to the floor. You are amazing!