Having learnt my lesson (which seems to be, if you have a dog in your book, allow it to live; though heaven knows, literature and children's literature in particular is crawling, as it were, with dead dogs), I took a much more upbeat line in my next novel, The Reluctant Passenger:
My friend Gerhard says my attention span is adjusted to the sonnet rather than to the nineteenth-century novel, but I don't seem to find poetry very interesting either: there's such a lot of unassimilated emotion around for so little reason, as far as I can see. Gerhard says the point of the sonnet is exactly that it tidies up the emotion, but I'm not sure that uncontrollable passion succumbs that easily to a few quatrains and a rhyming couplet. I once saw a man transporting his Rottweiler through a No Dogs Allowed area: the beast was clearly well trained, and stayed put, but you could see that all it really wanted to do was chew the wheels off all the trolleys in the universe. That's the sonnet.So the Rottweiler in the shopping trolley encapsulates the novel's central concern with the tension between passion and constraint, in broader terms between nature and art. (He is also one of the reluctant passengers in the novel, but that's another branch of the metaphor.) There is, though, a real dog in the book. He is a bull mastiff called Tornado and he belongs to Nicholas's neighbours. Nicholas doesn't really like Tornado because, as he says, he can't meet the emotional expectations of a dog. But in a complicated run of events, Tornado actually saves Nicholas from a would-be hijacker, and so he feels a grudging kind of gratitude to the beast. Thus, when the neighbours decide to move to Perth for the health and safety of their new baby, Tornado is in jeopardy: if they can't find a home for him, he'll have to be put down. This is where I made amends to Dumbo and Nicholas made amends to Tornado: he adopts Tornado and they live happily ever after. Well, as far as one can tell. (This is one of the differences between my novel and Disgrace.)
Would that all dogs were so lucky. Catching up on Justin Carwright's earlier novels, I came across his very funny but rather poignant 'American' novel:
If you look carefully, by the way, you'll see that the cover of Leading the Cheers looks rather mangled. That is because Simon, fed up with my retreating behind a book so soon after returning from three days in Franschhoek, grabbed the book and mauled it, thus unwittingly also avenging poor Herbie.
And yes, you'll want to know what happened to Simon while I was doing the Literary Festival. Well, he was well looked after by two house-sitters. He seems, though, to have felt the need to express his feelings in a tangible manner:
There is another literary festival next weekend, this time in Richmond in the Great Karoo. I was invited to attend with this intriguing rider : 'Dogs welcome.' I shall take the invitation at its word and take Simon to his first books event. It seems appropriate that the festival is mainly about J.M. Coetzee, with particular attention to Disgrace. Simon will no doubt make a contribution. Watch this space.