A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
When Rachel Fielding splits from her boyfriend of ten years she loses not only the love of her life but also her job and her home. It’s therefore fortunate that she simultaneously inherits the totality of her eccentric maiden aunt’s estate, ‘comprising family house, kennels, dogs, more dogs and some dogs’.
She retreats to the country – supposedly to sort out her aunt’s affairs – but also to give herself some breathing space and time to regroup.
Rachel isn’t a ‘dog’ person. She isn’t even a ‘country’ person. She’s a city girl, pining for cappuccinos and appalled by the speed with which dog hairs seek out black clothing. She is also, however, enough of a businesswoman to realize that it’s in her own best interests to keep the rescue kennels running and profitable while she decides what to do next.
Gradually, as she learns the ropes from the straightforward and indefatigably cheerful Megan, she is drawn into the life of the kennels, its occupants and its customers. Aunt Dot, she discovers, had an approach all of her own to rehoming strays. Recognizing that giving a ‘forever home’ to an unwanted dog is as life-transforming for the new owner as it is for the dog, she had a real talent for matching pooch to person – a talent which Megan has also learned and proceeds to pass on to Rachel.
As she begins rehoming the kennel’s canine waifs and strays with the local area’s human equivalent, Rachel also starts to look through her Aunt’s personal belongings and slowly uncovers an extraordinary submerged sadness and hidden life … and what she discovers eventually leads, circuitously, to her own ‘rescue’.
Lucy Dillon’s handling of the interwoven plot lines – as damaged humans are united with abandoned dogs – is seamless. Juggling multiple characters can lead to confusion unless each personality is carefully drawn, but here each of the dramatis personae is a well-rounded individual – an imperfect, but basically likeable human being – with the same flaws and foibles as the rest of the human race. Vets, doctors, harassed mothers, childless couples … all gravitate to the kennels to find their four-footed soulmates. And the dogs are as well delineated as the people. Bertie the Bassett, in particular, is a real star turn.
There are no pat solutions here (no pun intended). Lucy Dillon’s characters have real and recognizable 21st century problems which they muddle their way through just like everyone else.
Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts creates a world you want to live in. The kitchen at the kennels – where the volunteer dog walkers gather, and advice and non-judgemental friendship is dispensed along with the bacon sarnies – is at the beating heart of this wonderfully warm and beautifully observed novel – and don’t be put off if you’re not a ‘dog person’ – neither was one of my fellow judges – and it won her over too!
Hodder & Stoughton. 2009. ISBN: 978-0-0340-91920-0. 422pp.
Moira was one of the three judges of the Romantic Novel of the Year at the Pure Passion Awards 2010. Over the coming weeks, she’ll be reviewing all of the shortlisted books.