"The Art of Racing in the Rain"
by Garth Stein
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 12th September 2012Garth Stein's novel turns out to be a fairly conventional story of familial heartbreak, tragedy and triumph, with the twist that the story is told by the family's dog Enzo (named by the racing driver father Denny after Enzo Ferrari). Enzo is a mute witness to the family's ups and downs, and also to Denny's racing career - although he understands human speech, as a dog he cannot speak and without an opposable thumb (which he covets) he's unable to behave in any way other than as a dog ("gestures are all that I have", he begins).
It's Enzo's observations that lift the book, and in a way as a character it feels almost as if he deserves a bigger story than the one he finds himself in: he often thinks of a Mongolian legend that he's heard, that a dog who is good in one life will return as a man in the next, and he speaks eloquently of the parallels he sees between racing on the track and how to steer through life's difficulties (the eponymous art of racing in the rain). It's an interesting narrative device, as while Enzo is part of the story and very much involved in it emotionally, he is principally an observer. But also it's Enzo's voice that makes this book worth reading, and although they are very different characters, like the talking jazz trumpeting bear of The Bear Comes Home he's able to provide some insight into what it means to be a person.