A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen Review 4/5

Overall Impression: An endearing and uplifting tale about two underdogs surviving on London’s streets.
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

This is my third non-fiction book this year, I better be careful, I might hurt myself! I never thought I would delve into the world of non-fiction, it always fit snugly under the boring category in my mind. If someone had told me a year ago I would be reading some AND enjoying it I would have laughed. How quickly things change.
I originally bought the autobiography A Street Cat Named Bob for a family member who loved her furry friends. I had seen James Bowen being interviewed on the BBC news and the story caught my attention. After all, I am a soppy cat lover. After the family member had read it she leant it back to me, knowing all too well my love of books and I’m glad she did, because Bowen’s story was well worth reading!

When James Bowen found an injured, ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. James was living hand to mouth on the streets of London and the last thing he needed was a pet.
Yet James couldn’t resist helping the strikingly intelligent tom cat, whom he quickly christened Bob. He slowly nursed Bob back to health and then sent the cat on his way, imagining he would never see him again. But Bob had other ideas.
Soon the two were inseparable and their diverse, comic and occasionally dangerous adventures would transform both their lives, slowly healing the scars of each other’s troubled pasts.

A Street Cat Named Bob is written by James Bowen, a failed musician turned busker in London who was approached by a journalist. For obvious reason this means that it is not the finest prose you will encounter, but you know what? I liked that about it. This book was rough around the edges, a lot like James and Bob. Bowen could have taken the easy way out allowing a ghost writer to perfectly polish his story, but instead he chose to write it himself and I think this gave the story a more authentic and honest feel. I did cringe in a few places due to the lack of synonyms and sometimes the sentence structures and word choices got a little repetitive, but for the most part I was thoroughly impressed. Bowen quickly engulfs you into his story, both the mundane occurrences of everyday life and the heart pumping close calls he encounters on London’s streets. The thing I loved most about his style was how understated it was, not what I would normally look for in a book but in this instance it works. Nothing is inflated or over exaggerated, something that has always put me off reading autobiographies and biographies. It all feels very down to earth and real and has all the more impact because of it.

The book had a slow start which at first left me questioning whether I would enjoy it. As I had already picked up on several key elements of Bob’s story, I was worried I might have already discovered everything the book had to offer. Luckily, this turned out to be wrong. I did struggle with the first third of the book, mainly due to the beginning of the tale largely focusing on going back and forth to the vets which I didn’t find particularly interesting. However as the book continued it picked up the pace, Bowen’s personality began to shine through the prose and the further I got into the book the more I discovered how unusual Bob the cat was. By the end I almost felt as if I knew the two and that we were friends, a strange effect that I have never encountered before. The tale gets you rooting for these two underdogs and I couldn’t help grinning like a silly Cheshire Cat. The only other thing I would note is that the storyline was quite repetitive, this didn’t bother me but may be an issue for readers who like a more complex plot.

I quickly warmed to all of the real life characters. James the unlucky busker with a rough past but a heart of gold (especially when it comes to ginger tabbies) was quick to gain my respect and empathy. He came across as such a genuine, nice guy in the book that it was almost impossible to imagine how he ended up on the streets. It was weird to read how he busked around Convent Garden, a place that I have visited. It feels surreal to imagine his dramatic story was going on in the bustle of everyday life there. Belle, the steadfast friend, while briefly appearing in the book and mentioned only second hand still made a positive impression on me. The men working in the train station were perfect villains, I can still picture them now. And then of course there is Bob, the loyal, persistent lovable moggy whose life before James will probably remain a mystery. I loved the way he followed his owner around with steadfast determination, whether trotting along London’s streets, hopping up onto a shoulder or sitting on a bus seat. Often I would find myself turning to my own cat and questioning her on why she didn’t do any of these loyal things, unless of course their was food involved. Does anyone know a good cat trainer?! Lol.

While this was an uplifting tale it also had a more solemn effect at times. Bowen’s tale shows just how easy it can be to end up on the streets, a few wrong moves, a couple of mistakes and some bad luck is all it takes. While most of us know this on some level it can be all too easy to brush homelessness as a topic aside. We tell ourselves that it will never happen to us, that we are somehow different, more knowledgeable. But that’s what everyone thinks until it happens to them. Maybe even at our worst when we pass by someone busking or begging on the streets we feel they deserved to end up there. It is all too easy to dehumanize people suffering so we feel better about ourselves not even realising we are doing it. There are multiple psychology studies with findings showing we feel we are better as individuals than the collective even when the facts tell us otherwise, and this became specifically apparent to me in Bob’s tale. I am an empathic person but even I find myself dipping my head and avoiding eye contact when passing someone by on the streets, it is what we as a society have been taught to do. This story is important because it reminds us of the ‘human factor’, something which should never be forgotten.

This book was fun escapism while also touching on some serious issues, especially since I have recently noticed a Big Issue seller like James setting up down my street. This autobiography is suitable for any age group and I would recommend it to cat lovers and/or anyone looking for an easy heartwarming tale to fill a winter evening. While I probably won’t read the sequel The World According to Bob as I feel this books sums up the story well, I am glad that I read it and would recommend it to anyone without hesitation. 🙂

There are quite a few video’s of James and Bob out there now, but this is the one I like the most:

Writing Style: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.

Overall Impression: Four fluffy kitty cat paws!

Image Sources:
Book Cover: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12394068-a-street-cat-named-bob?ac=1

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29 thoughts on “A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen Review 4/5

  1. Sounds like an interesting book. I wonder – since Bowden wrote it himself – how much of the negative aspects of his personality he left out. I know most of us wouldn’t want our biography to show how small we can be; we’d all like to be the heroes of our own lives.

    If you like these, you should give a few James Herriott’s (All Creatures Great and Small) a try.

    It’s true what you say about the homeless and how much we ignore them, how out of joint they are. I remember a recruitment advert for the police: It gave an anecdote about a homeless guy who walked in to a station just for a conversation – he hadn’t had one in twenty years.

    Going to suggest this one to the library at school!

    • That’s an interesting thought, one which did occur to me as well. Bowen doesn’t hide that he was a mess in the past, he admits he didn’t take many chances he should have, he developed a drug addiction as well as mental issues including depression. Yet it is covered in a matter of fact way without much detail. I think this is because he wanted the main focus to be on his recovery, moving forward rather than back. I’m sure like most people he has tried to show his best qualities, but there is something in the tone of his writing, a kindness that seems to show though which I don’t think could be faked, if you see what I mean. 🙂

      Oooh I’ve never heard of that, I will look them up!

      Wow that is so heartbreaking, but I’m sure there are many cases like it which is horrible to think about. It is easy to forget when we are caught up in our own lives.

      Ohh yay, I hope they enjoy. 😀

  2. The world of non-fiction is a fascinating one and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re slowly settling into it.

    It’s kind of weird to hear about a loyal cat. In my experience they’re treacherous beasts who forgot about their owners the moment they leave the room.

    It’s true what you say about homeless people though. I sometimes see a drunken old soak on my way to the gym and I do my best to avoid catching his eye.

    • I know you are a big fan Michael! 🙂 I think with each year I grow older I am learning to appreciate and enjoy it more, I’m still not into extremely factual non-fiction though, I get enough of that at university.

      I know, right? Bob is way more like a dog. It does happen though but almost always with cats that have been badly mistreated or gone though a disaster and are nursed back to health by an owner. It makes them more loyal I guess. Most cats are treacherous!

      Many of us do!

  3. I generally read fiction but every now and then I enjoy a good biography/autobiography. I can’t remember if I told you this yet or not but we went to see the movie 12 Years a Slave on Friday, and it was the most powerful movie I have ever seen. It is a true story, so I made Mike take me to the bookstore right after the movie so I could get the book!! I also downloaded Nelson Mandella’s autobiography and I Am Malala about the girl who was shot and almost killed for standing up for girl’s and women’s rights to education. Now I just have to figure out where to put them in my TBR list :).

    • Me too, we are fiction fiends! 😀
      No you didn’t tell me that, I’ve never heard of the title but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love a good true story and powerful ones are even better. And there’s a book too?! I love it when you discover there’s a book, it allows even more depth in a story to experience it in two mediums! I have seen a lot of publicity for Malala’s book but have yet to read any reviews. I would be very interested to know what you think of it. 🙂 Put Malala at the top, I’m intrigued!

  4. Non-fiction = boring????!!! NOOOOO, take that back Beckster, my ickle heart is broken now 😦

    LOL, just joking, I’m glad you’re enjoying the non-fiction world. Unfortunately due to my strict policy of never reading anything with animals in it, I won’t be touching this book but it does seem like a beautiful story. And Bob seems like one fascinating kitty… 🙂

    • You know funnily enough I thought you would pick up on that comment, haha! My younger self definitely turned her nose up to non-fiction, but luckily that nose is becoming more tolerant and open over the years. (Yes, that was an odd analogy thingy. :P)

      Awwwhhh man, a no animals policy?! How did that come about? I admit this is not normally the kind of book I would pick up, but since it was lent to me and I was impressed by the BBC interview I saw I decided to give it a go. 🙂 He is indeed!

  5. Ooh glad you enjoyed this one. It’s definitely been on my TBR for a while. I’m a sucker for cats – I swear I’m going to be a crazy cat lady when I’m older…

    • I had a feeling that if I left this book it would have been on my TBR pile for ages too, that’s why I decided to pick it up as soon as I got it! I think it’s just one of those books.
      If you love cats then you should love Bob, definitely worth a read. 🙂

      All hail the crazy cat ladies, I think I might just end up as one too…

    • Thank you! I did too, I’m glad you agree. 🙂 Animals can be incredibly intelligent, my cat knows exactly how to guilt trip me into giving her food or doing what she wants me too with her cutsie eyes.

      I would love to meet Bob too, that would be awesome!

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