George is very angry. His wife has upped and died on him, and all he wants to do is sit in his underpants and shout at the cricket. The last thing he needs is his cake-baking neighbour Betty trying to rescue him. And then there’s the dog, a dachshund puppy called Poppy. George doesn’t want a dog – he wants a fight.
Dan is a counsellor with OCD who is great at helping other people – if only he were better at helping himself. His most meaningful relationship so far is with his labrador, Fitz. But then comes a therapy session that will change his life.
Lizzie is living in a women’s refuge with her son Lenny. Her body is covered in scars and she has shut herself off from everyone around her. But when she is forced to walk the refuge’s fat terrier, Maud, a new life beckons – if she can keep her secret just a while longer…
Dog Days is a novel about those small but life-changing moments that only come when we pause to let the light in. It is about three people learning to make connections and find joy in living life off the leash.
There are some books that you start reading and just know, almost before you’ve finished the first page, that you’ve found something special. Dog Days is one such book for me. From the very beginning, I loved Ericka Waller’s writing style and knew that I was in for a treat.
Dog Days follows three characters – George, Dan, and Lizzie – through a period of change in their lives. The novel alternates between their perspectives, and while they don’t know each other, their lives do intersect at times. Despite their very different backgrounds, they do have one thing in common and that is their dogs and the comfort they find in their canine companions irrespective of whatever else they are facing. Each character demonstrates that you never really know what others are going through, and how we might react when faced with change and upheaval in our lives.
We begin with George who is – to put it bluntly – a cantankerous old bastard. His wife has had the temerity to up and die on him, leaving him utterly alone, incapable of looking after himself, and unable to come to terms with his grief. He’s a grumpy old sod who is very much of his time, but I liked him despite his poor attitude and foul mouth. He expresses his emotions the only way that he knows how, and it comes out as anger at everyone and everything around him. His wife, Ellen, left him with a Dachshund puppy called Poppy and I love the contrast between dog and owner – she’s not the sort of dog you expect of someone like George, and while she gets the cold shoulder initially, his gradual softening towards her is lovely to see. What I really like about George’s narrative is that the reader is privy to his thoughts, and we can see that he often doesn’t mean what he says and does feel regret when he goes too far and says something hurtful (this happens quite a lot), even if he’s not able to express it.
The second narrative is that of Dan who works as a counsellor. He has OCD (actual OCD, not just the fussiness that is often mistaken for it) and seems content in his life, happy with his dog, Fitz. I think that Dan is someone that doesn’t like to take risks, and whose introversion means that he doesn’t always know how to act around others. He tells himself he’s single as that seems to be the easiest course of action and the one involving the least amount of risk, but when a new client arrives, his world is turned upside down, and not necessarily in a bad way. Dan is such a special character, and throughout I hoped that he would find the courage to take a chance and not let his fears hold him back. Dan has by far the best trained dog that I’ve ever come across and one who really demonstrates the way in which people come to rely on their pets for companionship and the way that they in turn pick up on our moods and generally seem to ‘get’ us more than you might think.
Then there’s Lizzie, whose story is more difficult to read. She and her son, Lenny, have sought the safety of a woman’s refuge, and while she’s reluctant to share the details (with either the refuge leader, Tess, or the reader), she’s clearly carrying an injury and some scars – mental as well as physical. Lizzie wants nothing more than to keep to herself, but she begins to bond with the refuge’s dog, Maud, who she is expected to walk. Lizzie is an interesting character. A former teacher, she is full of facts about anything and everything, and resorts to these in times of stress or difficulty, often trotting out little snippets as a comfort to herself despite their irrelevance to the situation. As her past becomes clearer, the reader comes to understand her situation and mannerisms, and it’s clear that she has been through a very difficult time for many reasons.
Dog Days explores the different ways in which people deal with upheaval in their lives and the events that are outside of their gift to control, and the way that hope can come from the unlikeliest of quarters. It’s funny and sad, heart-warming and life affirming, and I liked the way that Waller throws a few surprises into each narrative, giving a different outcome to what I’d been expecting. A superb debut from an author to watch.
Dog Days is published by Doubleday and is available now in hardback, eBook, and audio formats. Huge thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and the publisher for the early copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
About the Author
ERICKA WALLER lives in Brighton with her husband, three daughters and pets. Previously, she worked as a blogger and columnist.
Dog Days is the sum of everything she has learned about love, loss and the healing power of dogs.
Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers who have taken part in the tour: