Both laugh-out-loud funny and weep-into-your-hanky heartbreaking, Lily and the Octopus introduces a spectacular new voice and leaves its mark on the landscape of great fiction. For anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet, anyone who has struggled to find meaning in the face of death and feared its residual solitude, Steven Rowley’s debut is unmissable and provides a potent catharsis.
Ted is a struggling writer whose life is in somewhat of a downward spiral. It’s not careening, it’s still salvageable, but it’s on a definite decline. His dachshund, Lily, is his only salvation; the one constant in his life, who stood by him during his breakup, through good times and bad. Their bond will not be unique for dog owners; I’m guilty of occasionally conversing with my Golden Retriever as though he understands and can answer back. He can’t do the former – not with words, anyway; but sometimes I’m positive Eddy knows precisely what I’m saying…
Things take a turn for the worse when Ted discovers an “octopus” – a tumour – on Lily’s head, and realises his greatest friendship, the companionship he’s held dear for so many years, is nearing its end. The manifestation of Ted’s reaction – which fall across the emotional spectrum – form the basis of Rowley’s novel. We all struggle with mortality – our own, our loved ones – but for the emotionally-challenged Ted, it’s potentially more than he can cope with.
Much of Lily and the Octopus is biographical – Rowley admits as much in his note in the endnote of the novel – and he utilises this raw, true emotion to pummel the reader with emotional gut-punches that will leave you heartbroken. But it’s more than a replay of real-life events; Rowley’s novel is packed with inspired digressions and forces readers to question the relatively of truth. It finds a perfect harmony between truth and fiction.
Lily and the Octopus has earned comparisons to The Life of Pi and The Art of Racing in the Rain — and deservedly so. So poignant and true, it’s a novel that will break your heart — and you’ll know it’s doing so from its opening pages —but despite it, you won’t be able to put it down, or want it to end. It is, quite, simply magical. Certainly one of the finest novels of 2016.