Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley



So, the other day, I had just finished Nella Last's War, which was kind of a tough read for me.  I was looking through my bookshelves for something that would be different, not too heavy, and preferably something that would fulfill one of my challenges.  Something short would be ideal.  So I was looking through my shelf with NYRB classics (mostly unread) when I happened to gaze upon My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley.  Aha!  Just the thing -- short, nonfiction, and I could count it as my "classic featuring an animal" in the Back to the Classics Challenge.  Plus it was an NYRB that had been sitting on the shelves for over a year, since I went to New York and visited the amazing Strand Bookstore.  It sounded perfect.

However, This book was not what I expected, to say the least.  J. R. Ackerley was an excellent writer, and from the publisher's description, I expected it to be a lovely memoir of a man and his beloved dog.  I am an enormous dog lover, so I was looking forward of anecdotes and funny stories about the dog Tulip -- perhaps stories of things the dog did and shouldn't have done, things she shouldn't have eaten, people they met on walks, that sort of thing.

Well.  It started out a bit like that, with a chapter about the world's nicest lady veterinarian (this was first published in the 1950s, so I expected it to be a product of its times), but then the book progressed into a very detailed description of Tulip's bodily functions.  The second chapter is entitled, "Liquids and Solids" so I really don't need to explain much more.

The remainder of the book, which is not very long, continues with more doggy bodily functions -- specifically, reproduction.  In great detail.  More than 100 pages about Tulip reproducing, or attempting to; that is, finding the proper mate for Tulip, how it all works, how difficult it is for things to happen naturally -- I'm not going to go into further detail, but let me just say it was waaaay too much information.  Seriously, I was beginning to think I was reading 50 Shades of Greyhounds. (Okay, Tulip is German Shepherd, but you get the idea.) I did finish the book to see how it ended, but I really did not need to know the intimate details of Tulip's sex life.  There.  I've said it.

Honestly, it seemed like Ackerley was obsessed with Tulip's sex life.  At the very end of the book, it occurred to me that maybe he wanted Tulip to be fulfilled in a way that he wasn't.  Ackerley was openly gay, living in mid-century Great Britain, and the Sexual Offenses Act which de-criminalized homosexuality iwasn't passed until 1967, the year Ackerely died.  Please believe me, I'm not criticizing Ackerley personally or his love for Tulip, but this book just wasn't what I expected.  It makes me wonder why the publisher's descriptions of the book are so vague.

Ackerley wrote several other memoirs, all available as NYRB Classics, but I'm not sure after My Dog Tulip that I'm particularly interested in reading any of them.  Hindoo Holiday sounds intriguing but I'm a bit put off by Ackerley at the moment.  Has anyone else read anything by Ackerley?  What did you think?

6 comments:

  1. 50 Shades of Greyhounds....hahahahaha! That killed me. This sounds like a really bizarre book. I've never read anything by Ackerley, but now I'm curious.

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    1. Thanks, I didn't know if it was over the top, but I'm usually not very witty, so I couldn't resist.

      It was bizarre. It should have been subtitled, "How not to have your dog reproduce." It just went on and on.

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  2. I could have sworn I read My Dog Tulip, but I can't find the recap card I always make when I finish a book. I do see that I read My Father and Myself back in 1987. It's all about sex, too: his father had two families and no one knew until he died. Ackerley is also very curious about a close friendship his father had with another young man in his youth. Sex, apparently, was a focus in his life, whether human or canine.

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    1. Wow. Is that a true story, or fiction? That would be an unpleasant shock.
      But it does seem like there's a lot of sex in his books!

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  3. I've been avoiding My Dog Tulip and the novel with similar theme since I read somewhere that it was all about squeezing various glands and... Ew. EW. However, I have read Hindoo Holiday (in the uncensored version from NYRB - the earlier versions had expurgated the homosexuality of maharajah for whom Ackerley worked). It is very much a product of its time re descriptions of native habits, but the writing was so good. It left me feeling very uneasy though (http://bookforgetter.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/review-hindoo-holiday.html).

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    1. The squeezing of the glands was the least of it -- it was downhill from there.

      Hindoo Holiday sounds interesting, but it's awfully hard to read racist and sexist stuff in older books -- I've just started The 30 Steps by John Buchan and there's some nasty anti-Semitic stuff. I know some books are a product of their time, but it's icky sometimes. But I'll definitely be reading your review!

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