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4.1 out of 5 stars
My Dog Tulip (New York Review Books Classics)
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
My Dog Tulip is an extraordinary book about the love between man and dog in general (by extension) and between Mr Ackerley and his Alsatian bitch in particular. Rescued from a working class family (and Mr Ackerley finds the working classes shockingly remiss when it comes to the care of their dogs) at an early age, Tulip immediately gave her new owner unconditional love. As well she might because Mr Ackerley is a man with love to give in return.

It is not a remarkable story in any way - simply that of their life together and Mr Ackerley's thoughts on the nature of their loving relationship - but it is deeply affecting in its gentleness and the quality of thought that he brings to their relationship. Early on, Ackerley comes to understand that Tulip thinks it is her job to protect him. She cannot therefore let him out of her sight without worrying about him. He has no need to train her on a lead since she would follow him anywhere. Theirs does seem an ideal, if unequal, relationship - one based, nonetheless, on mutual trust and a desire to be close.

Of course, Mr Ackerley has a job and a life outside of this relationship, (the rest of his life - job, family, etc., is never mentioned) but in this book (and, I feel, in his life itself), he gives priority to the time he spends with Tulip. As an aside, he reports on other dogs and their relationships with their owners and very few come up to the exacting standard of his own.

Tulip is allowed one experience of motherhood, at which she excels. However, the problems Mr Ackerley has in finding her pups suitable owners brings him to decide not to go through it again. It is only when he relaxes about the problem of Tulip coming on `heat', however, that he learns that Tulip herself can quite happily cope with the solution of dog `followers'. At the end of the book there is a kind of extended meditation on the nature of dogs' sex-lives which is instructive and profound. Dog owners are mostly found wanting, when not outright cruel.

This was a delight to read from start to finish. How could it be so riveting? It is nothing but a story of one man and his dog, devoid, I might add, of any trace of sentimentality. Nevertheless one comes to understand and appreciate both man and dog so well that a warm glow of admiration pervades one's being. Of course, it is no good reading this book if you have never had a dog yourself, because you simply won't understand.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2001
J.R.Ackerley once described Tulip, the subject of this elongated essay, as 'the love of his life.' Some may imagine this declaration to be a little overstated, but none who who have read this book will retain any doubt that that is exactly what this Alsatian bitch was. His love, respect and empathy for his constant companion shouts out from every line.
The adoration he holds for her becomes immediately evident as he spends two delightful pages describing her physical appeal in ponderous detail, from her tall, pointed ears that 'glow shell-pink as though incandescent,' right down to the black fur covering her back which, 'descending over her shoulders, fastens at her sternum, seeming to clip together with an ivory brooch.' Ackerley is not a confident owner and the way that he describes Tulip's everyday routines reveals as much about his own personality and attitudes as it does about the dog itself. It is heartbreaking to read on, as he laments his shame at not being able to fully understand what it is Tulip wants from him. He inexorably turns to his favoured Vet, 'Miss Canvey for aid, and is full of frothing praise after she has solved yet another niggling behavioural problem that he has been unable to get to the root of. He finds it hard to cope without Miss Canvey - "I'm not exceptional," she tells a downcast Ackerley before leaving for a new country practice. "You are to me," he replies with a sigh.
This helplessness, although endearing, contrasts sharply with other sections of the book where Ackerley and Tulip come across as a terrible twosome. This is most evident when he describes the problems he has with her 'mess'. Reluctant to train her to poo in the gutter for fear of her getting run down, he allows her to 'do her business' on the pavement, (it must be remembered that this is the early sixties and 'pooper scooping' was a long way from its conception.) This drags him into all sorts of altercations with shopkeepers, cyclists and pedestrians. During these confrontations, Ackerley shows another side of his character, one which has little patience with the human race.
Interestingly enough, the introduction to this new edition, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas provides a great deal of insight into this dichotomy of character. Luckily, I have made it a habit always to read introductions at the END of books, that way the book does not suffer from pre-imposed actualities. This time, I was extremely glad of my habit because the impression I was left with was of a short piece of writing crammed with compressed beauty and touching tenderness. It was a surprise gift from Ackerley that the inevitable drawn-out death scene never materialised; instead he chose to leave us with a a finely tuned descriptive passage condensed from a thousand early morning walks on Putney Common. It is almost as if every thought and impression culled from these walks that spread across the years and seasons, has been squeezed into one short glorious, final chapter.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2010
I laughed.
I was shocked.
I cringed.
I laughed some more.
I felt embarrased for Ackerly.
I laughed again.
I cried.

I so wish I had known J.R.Ackerly. We'd have got on well..

One amazing biography of a dog!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2010
I don't particularly like dogs and have never owned one, but I do recognise fine writing when I read it, and this book is written so exquisitely that I wanted to run out and buy a dog after reading it.
Aside from that, Ackerley helped me understand how some people can be so very devoted to their dogs, in the way he was, indeed, almost in love with them (in non-sexual terms, I fervently hope!)
Yes, this is a love letter to a dog, but one utterly believes its sincerity 100% because she was such a special dog and Ackerley such a special writer.
This is a book one re-reads every five years, each time surprised by the mastery of the English language, and the special magic Ackerley brings to it.
Read it, you will not regret it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2010
As a dog owner myself I though this was a lovely description of the bond between one's self and one's dog....it also was interesting to read of the way our attitude to dog fouling etc have changed since it was written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2011
High praise for My Dog Tulip. If like me, an animal
lover, and of dogs in particular this'tale' is for
you!
The account of JR Ackerleys sixteen year companionship
with Tulip, a German Shepherd is one of warmth,
humour, unconditional love, but never sentimental.
Tulip always behaves as a canine, but both are untrained. If you are intending to
buy a dog -read this first. However, not recommended for anyone who dislikes dogs!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
My Dog Tulip (New York Review Books Classics)I first read this book about thirty years ago, lent the book to someone, and never got it back. Great to see a reprint. What makes the work unique is Ackerley's stalwart refusal to anthropomorphise his relationship with Tulip. He loves Tulip as a man loves a dog, and Tulip loves Ackerley as a dog loves a man. Full stop. It's a celebration of otherness, 'differentness' if you like. The one-star reviewers, in my opinion, miss the point entirely; of course there's lots of 'bodily function' stuff. That's what animals do: eat, sleep, urinate, defecate. Any omission thereof would be tantamount to bowdlerisation of the story. So very different from the piles of asinine books about cats that pack the bookshops in the run-up to Christmas! Cats I love. But cat-writers should all take Twee Bypass Ops, then waste no time in learning from Ackerley's masterpiece!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2014
What a joy! A beautifully written and unsentimental, if now somewhat outdated, account of the (mainly) toileting and copulation adventures of J.R. Ackerley's wonderful German Shepherd Tulip! The author's genuine regard for his dog as a creature in her own right is touching, as is his frequent puzzlement at her behaviour and that of other dogs. Ackerley's often humorous observations of the humans who own or deal with dogs are equally well drawn, and he does not spare himself when it comes to describing the highs and lows of having a canine companion.
Give this to everyone you know who owns a dog - but with a 'health warning' that it spares no details about the trials and tribulations of doggy mating!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2014
As a lover of both 20th century British literature and dogs this had been on my reading list for some time. I finally got around to starting it last night and because it is so damn good (and slight) I read it in one session.

Ackerley’s writing style reminds me of Anthony Burgess (or more specifically an Anthony Burgess character like Enderby or Kenneth Toomey), as Burgess is my second favourite writer this is a good thing.

As some people have issues with the descriptions of Tulip’s bodily functions I had expected something a touch creepy, perhaps redolent of Swiftian coprophilia but no, the complainants should stick to ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2’ and the like as the detailed descriptions of Tulips pooing patterns had me roaring out loud, and the disparity between the different types of micturition, necessity and communication, is described beautifully - Tulip looks like she’s signing cheques when doing the latter!

What’s nice is that I am no way erudite enough to enunciate my burning love for my Shiba Inu, Ackerley does it for me, and he nails it!

I suggest that every dog lover reads it (except for the aforementioned offence-mongers and ultra-prudes) in the way I did - curled up on their bed with with their furry friend sleeping by their side.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2011
This book is beautifully written and concerns the relationship of a dog and her human.
It looks at the issues that really matter to a dog without making it twee - and the kind of problems that arise in the life of a dog qwner, if you are trying to keep your dog happy. These issues are rarely talked about in polite society (i.e. non dog owners' society)
Half the book deals with concerns of defecation- before the "please clean up after your dog" signs and those little red "poo boxes" we have everywhere now- life was harder then!
and the other half deals with the important parts of a dog's life- love, sex and marriage-(if a one night stand really counts as marriage for a dog)and procreation.
It is a thoughtful book and I'm sure that I will want to read it again in the future, to relive this very honest description of living with a much loved friend.
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