Book Review: A mongrel’s promotion to mental health companion

Book Review: A mongrel’s promotion to mental health companion

By ADITYA MANI JHA | | 26 September, 2015
Mark B. Mills.
Mark B. Mills is a fine, intelligent storyteller. His canine creation, Doggo, is at the periphery of an up-and-down romantic comedy and rescues it in the nick of time, writes Aditya Mani Jha.
Waiting for Doggo
Mark B. Mills
Hachette India
Pages: 216
Price: Rs 350
 
Dogs and cats have been so much more than mere accessories, as far as literature is  concerned. Nobody can forget the terrifying cats from Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes and his dog are seen as a pair: they are an evildoing double team for the purposes of the main narrative. But a closer look reveals that the dog bears the brunt of Sikes’ cruelty more than anyone else. At the end of the novel Waiting for Doggo, author Mark Mills picks Bull’s Eye, Dicken’s canine creation, as the first on his list of “literary pooches”. I found this choice to be very significant because for the greater part of this low-key romantic comedy, Doggo the mongrel functions as a sort of emotional barometer for the protagonist Daniel, an up-and-coming 30-year-old copywriter. 
 
At the beginning of the novel, we are told that Clara, Daniel’s longtime girlfriend, has left his flat suddenly, leaving him a Dear John letter, refusing to tell him her whereabouts. One of the reasons behind the breakup is that Daniel does not share Clara’s belief in guardian angels. All of this happens just weeks after she brought Doggo home. She advises him to take the dog back to the shelter, observing “(…) It’s not like the two you of hit it off.” From the beginning, it is very clear that Daniel’s feeling of kinship with Doggo has more to do with the “discard” status of both man and dog here. Through this “short and exceptionally ugly” dog, Daniel begins to come to terms with his feelings of emasculation: his girlfriend of many years left him without so much as a confrontation, after all. In a somewhat crude but funnily written metaphor for the same, Daniel decides to keep Doggo after realising that the poor mutt would be neutered if turned over to the shelter. There is also one very interesting aside about Doggo’s previous name, Mikey. The question of who “owns” a dog largely boils down to given names and there’s a paradox there itself, one feels. Daniel observes, “Mikey!? It would be like Winston Churchill’s parents changing their minds at the last moment and deciding to call their bouncing baby boy Brian. I mean, would Roosevelt and Stalin even have sat down with him at Yalta if he’d been called Brian?”
 
Also interesting is the way Mills reveals how Doggo is allowed to come to work with Daniel, and the obstacles leading up to the same. On a public bus, Daniel is told that Doggo cannot stand or sit in the aisle, because of “driver’s discretion”. But the driver also quietly tells him that guide dogs would be exempt from this proviso. Afterwards, Daniel claims that Doggo is a mental health companion dog. In the eyes of the society, the worth of a dog is inextricably tied up to its purpose in the eyes of the owner: necessity trumps love every single time. The message, of course, is that Daniel is telling only half a lie: by the end of the book, Doggo does indeed become key to Daniel maintaining his sanity and productivity. To return to our earlier discussion about nomenclature, Doggo becomes nothing less or more than what his master announced him as. 
On a public bus, Daniel is told that Doggo cannot stand or sit in the aisle, because of “driver’s discretion”. But the driver also quietly tells him that guide dogs would be exempt from this proviso. Afterwards, Daniel claims that Doggo is a mental health companion dog. 
At his best, Mills possesses a great deal of skill in depicting awkward social situations and the mechanisms of male bonding. In fact these scenes are written with much more assurance than the more frequent romantic/courting scenes. Here, for example, is Daniel’s neat summary of his best friend.
 
“J and I met at Warwick University, where we both studied English. It’s one of those rare and rather special friendships (more common between men than women, in my experience) where two people utterly unlike each other in character and temperament hit it off. I tend to come at life cautiously, grateful for whatever it bestows on me; J attacks it as if it were an assault course, every hurdle an impediment tailored to slow his progress. He has the energy, drive and ambition of ten men, possibly a hundred.” 
 
This is a book that seems like it was written for a young Hugh Grant to star in. The number of “lad-jokes” is still quite a bit, even though Mills has, for the most part, restrained himself in this department. The portions which take place at Indology, an ad firm that hires him at the beginning of the novel, are the weak link, though: the characters of Ralph and Tristan, the warring bosses at Indology, are not as strong as those of Daniel and Edie (his copywriting partner who he falls for). 
 
Keeping these little quibbles aside, Waiting for Doggo is a charming story and a confirmed page-turner. Some of the fun it creates might be generic but then, it never pretends otherwise. This novel is recommended for lazy weekends where you’re looking to read something light and frothy. 

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