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
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
Overall Impression: Four fluffy kitty cat paws!
Book Cover: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12394068-a-street-cat-named-bob?ac=1