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My Dog Tulip by J.R.Ackerley

February 15th, 2009 · · Book Reviews

Order "MyDog Tulip" by J.R. Ackerley
I have put off reviewing this book because I have been unsure as to whether or not I could do it justice. “My Dog Tulip” is an authentic work of literature. J.R.Ackerly was, to quote Felice Picano, “one of the best insufficiently known writers of our time.” He was born in Herne Hill, Kent in 1896. It would seem reasonable to say that he received what was then considered to be an excellent education culminating in law studies at Cambridge. He also spent time in British India as private secretary to the Maharajah of Chokrapur. When he returned to England he settled into a literary life of editing and writing. He died in 1967.

What can the reader expect in terms of a ‘dog book’ from such an individual? The answer is a work of luminous beauty and candor. J.R.Ackerly writes some very elegant prose that is illuminated by his particular genius. The dog, Tulip, an Alsatian (a German Shepherd), is described in the most respectful and yet intimate manner. A description of the author riding around on the upper level of a red London bus in the company of a bitch in heat is so vividly rendered that the details linger in the mind. This book is set long before the era of wide spread sterilization of pet dogs, gourmet dog food, and stoop and scoop bylaws. It was indeed a different time. The flavour of the era comes through strongly.

J.R.Ackerly desired that Tulip fulfill herself; he wanted her to be able to actualize her authentic dog self. Isn’t that what all committed dog owners want for their dogs? Tulip’s fulfillment of course includes what the author discretely refers to as “marriage” and subsequent motherhood. These aspects of her life are chronicled in some considerable detail. The trials and tribulations of attempting to mate Tulip are faithfully recorded. She refuses several pure bred partners and instead selects for herself the dog next door, ‘a disreputable, dirty mongrel, Dusty by name, in whom Scottish sheep-dog predominated. I returned the stare of the disconcertingly dissimilar eyes, one brown, one pale blue, of this ragamuffin with whom it had always amused Tulip to play, and knew that my intervention was at an end. I smiled at him. “Well, there you are, old girl,” I said. “Take it or leave it. It’s up to you.” ‘ This union produced eight puppies.

“My Dog Tulip” grants the reader a rare glimpse of a not too distant past and a memorable account of the life of well regarded pet dog. “Where she innovates, where she rebels, is in demanding to be treated as a creature in her own right, as a dog of dogdom and not as an appendage of man. This Mr.Ackerly accords, with a freshness and an innocence of vision that has never before been directed at the canine world.” Do read this book if you love both dogs and literature. It will not disappoint.


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