Book Review: Lily and the Octopus

“Why are you crying?” exclaimed my husband, panicking as his brain listed the things he might have done that he needs to apologize for. “I read a cutely sad book,” I sobbed. Relieved that none of my tears were his doing, hubby gives me a conciliatory hug, and goes back to his laptop.

That cutely sad book is Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley’s brilliant debut.


The essential thread of the book is revealed by page four, and giving it away doesn’t necessarily “spoil” the book. However, it is best experienced first hand, and therefore I will say only that this is about a man, Ted, his best friend, his dachshund, Lily and their struggle to defeat a devilish octopus.

This description may give the impression that this is just another story about a man and his dog, or that it is just another tearjerker, but the book is so much more than just that. The book does paint a beautiful image of the relationship between pets and their owners, often moving the reader to tears. But it is also filled with buckets of good humour and a heaping dose of magical realism.

Nor is it a book that can only be enjoyed by pet owners. I felt greatly involved with the story, even though I myself have never had a pet. This is probably because at the root of it, Lily and the Octopus is about love and companionship–emotions that are universal and enduring. It is also about experiencing and coming to terms with grief, making it a good read for anyone struggling with a loss.

As always, the backbone of any good book is the characterization, and Rowley has created some memorable characters. Lily is delightful and adorable (how can a dog not be adorable!) and Ted, while coming across as difficult, manages to somehow get the reader to care about him.

To paraphrase P B Shelley, our sweetest stories are those that tell of saddest thought. Lily and the Octopus lives up to this truth. It is a bittersweet experience of love and loss. Once upon a time, Steven Rowley mourned his Lily (the backstory behind the book is just as magical and moving as the book itself.) and now the world mourns with him. There couldn’t be a more fitting tribute to a best friend.

FTC disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for this honest review.

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