Book Review: Under The Paw – Tom Cox (Simon & Schuster 2008)

Think there are too many cats on the internet? Then look away my friend, this review is not for you.

Many of you may already know Tom Cox via his magnificently witty Tweets under the name of @mysadcat. These are simply some of the best Tweets around and reason enough to check out Twitter. If you’ve never seem them, go and take a look.

Tom was formerly a rock critic and now writes regularly for national newspapers and magazines. This is the first of three books he has written so far that focus on his life as a massive cat enthusiast.

His writing is very funny and easy to read and I did laugh on several occasions. I’ve been caught out before by books whose cover blurb promises that it is ‘unputdownable’ and will have you in uproarious fits of laughter, only to find that they have been all too ‘putdownable’ and as funny as scabies. It’s nice to read a book that is genuinely warm funny and compelling.

Tom writes about his life as a cat lover. From being a furtive feline fetishist he develops into an unabashed ‘cat man’, a beer drinking, golf playing, music loving antithesis of the stereotypical crazy cat lady of contemporary folklore.

We are introduced to all of the cats that he and his wife Dee have owned and their personality traits, real and imagined. There is Janet, a male cat named in a period of confusion as to his true gender – well, it can be hard to tell with all the fur. Brewer, a bird-loving risk-taker who was sadly killed in a road accident. Bootsy, a tiny cat who seems quite timid but soon has Tom and the other cats marching to her beat. Ralph, a seemingly hormonal cat whose tendency for depression may be linked to the fact that he was originally named Prudence (yes, very furry down there). We briefly meet Raffles, who may have been responsible for some of the urban sightings of panthers over the years. And then there is the grand old man of the bunch, known as The Bear, who is the star of the @mysadcat tweets.

Moggy life in all it’s loving, funny and stomach-churning glory is revealed and cat owners will smile and nod when reading about spraying, puking and dead mice.

As a cat owner, I would find it difficult to say if this book would appeal to non-cat owners. Leave a message and let me know. Readers who do not own cats may finish the book wanting their own little furry bag of neuroses. Conversely, tales of toilet errors and cleaning up amorphous blobs of blood and guts may put them off for life.

We get glimpses of Tom and Dee’s life. Their decision to move out of London to Norfolk could probably make a good book on its own. The challenges they face include sociopathic techno neighbours and dawdling old-people in Post Office queues (a universal phenomenon which has developed into a competitive level sport in Norfolk).

I particularly enjoyed the appearances of Tom’s dad, a man so loud that lower case letters are not needed when transcribing his prophetic and sage like utterances such as the advice to ‘watch out for nutters’. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

If you like cats and like reading , you will enjoy this book.

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker (Simon & Schuster – 2013)

Some psychologists argue that humans are compelled by natural disasters because it triggers their deepest senses of empathy. I’d like to think it was this rather than a sense of schadenfreude that attracted me to this book, which revolves around an 11 year old girl called Julia at a time when the Earth’s rotation begins, inexplicably, to slow down.

Julia is an ordinary girl whose shyness, awkwardness and feelings of alienation will resonate with many. She has few close friends and those she has tend to drift away as their families react to the slowing of the Earth by searching for solace and answers within ‘end of days’ religious ideology or alternative communities.

I’m not sure that the author would want this novel to be described as science fiction but, at the least, it is scientifically speculative and, like a lot of good sci-fi, it explores the implications of changing one thing (albeit quite a big one) and then following through the consequences and implications. As the Earth slows, days and nights become longer, circadian rhythms are knocked out of kilter whilst animals and plant life start to suffer drastically.

Life continues, many people simply try to continue their lives as best they can but relationships are stretched and altered by the natural catastrophe. In an attempt to keep order, the government stipulates that people should continue to abide by the regular 24 hour clock. Some disregard this and seek to live a regular pattern of day/awake & night/asleep that sets them apart from their communities and eventually makes them the target of suspicion and bullying. This echoes Julia’s experiences of not belonging to the right crowd.

As the Earth continues to revolve more slowly, gravity seems to be affected as does the magnetic field resulting in the northern lights being seen in California. Significantly higher radiation in the atmosphere means that people must increasingly avoid daylight. Julia’s mother and others become ill with a new disease that becomes known as ‘the syndrome’.

In Julia and her family, the flora, fauna and Earth itself a deep fragility is displayed. Fragility of friendships, family ties, the ecosystem and the human mind. However this is no Eco-warrior allegory, humans are not to blame for their predicament.

Children must often endure as they have little control over their circumstances. Such powerlessness is written large in the novel, not only for Julia but for the human race.

I enjoyed this book and I think that most readers will be gripped by the over-arching disaster whilst feeling a strong sense of empathy with Julia.