Review: And A Dog Called Fig by Helen Humphreys

The sub-title of this book is Solitude, Connection, The Writing Life. Having said that, this is mainly a book about dogs, and less about writing.

This is not a bad thing; there is a space for examining relationships with animals and nature and how these can impact on our comfortable routines. Humphreys seems to be a writer that doesn’t express emotion, her writing is dispassionate, even when discussing her previous dog Charlotte who, she tells us, was perfect and the one she describes as the dog of her life. Fig is the Vizsla puppy she gets after Charlotte dies and this book is the story of Fig’s early life, how she grows and learns, how they eventually bond, and in between tales of them going to obedience classes and long walks, Humphreys adds in observations about everything she has learned from a life with dogs.

The blurb describes it as: “A love song to the dogs who come into our lives, and all that they bring –sorrow, mayhem, meditation, joy — this is a book about the beauty of a steadfast canine friend and the restorative powers of nature. Just as every work of art is different, every dog is different — with distinctive needs and lessons to offer. If we let them guide us, they, like art, will show us many worlds we would otherwise miss.”

It’s a gently absorbing book, short and easy enough to read, but perhaps if you subtitle a book to suggest it is about solitude and the writing life, then there could be a bit more of this. She writes briefly about writing every so often but it feels very much an afterthought.

Any writing chat comes when Humphreys describes the relationship other writers through history have had with their dogs and there are some lovely pictures of authors and their hounds. In one paragraph, she mentions how dated and old fashioned the author looks, while the dog could of course have looked the same if photographed yesterday.

The writing part is incidental, really; it’s very much a book about a dog and one woman’s relationship with nature, told without a lot of emotion, but with some lovely observations.

I was particularly struck by this line, for instance, when she meets a young deer while out on her daily walk.

“But to see the naked joy on the young deer’s face – an emotion that was so easy to read that it was a bit shocking – made me realise how narrow, and miserable our encounters mostly are with wild creatures.”

I’d not thought of that before but it did seem to ring true, for many of us in western areas certainly, wild animals are very distant and if we see them at all, perhaps it is in captivity or in those charity appeal ads on TV.

Fig is a character in the book, though again described at a distance, even when in her biting phase. It is almost a surprise to Humphreys when Fig displays a sense of love and loyalty to her, having been together for a while and I wonder if she is this distant with everyone or if it’s just her readers.

Anyway, this has come across as a rather grumpy review when in truth, I read it very quickly in big chunks as I was keen to find out how Fig got on as she grew. I don’t know much about Vizslas but they sound an interesting breed, if a bit of a handful, and they are lovely to look at, what I would call a proper dog.

I enjoyed this book very much, and there is much for you too, if you’re a dog person and, might I suggest, even if you’re not?

And A Dog Called Fig is out now from all good retailers, as well as the bad one, priced £14.99

Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy.

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