A Street Cat Named Bob (by James Bowen)

I had just been to a writing conference, and was spending a long weekend relaxing with relatives, so I wanted something light and undemanding to read. I spotted this book on my bedroom shelf; the story of James Bowen and his cat Bob is quite well known but I had never read the book, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

The opening pages of ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ describe the first meeting between the author, who tries to eke out a living as a busker, and the ginger tom who adopts him back in 2007. Bob’s health isn’t great when they meet, and as a cat lover this is the motivation the author needs to start pulling himself out of the mires of drug addiction and depression that have dogged him for some years.

As Bob is an Internet star, there were no surprises for me in the story: Bob responds well to treatment, and his new friend earns lot more money busking when accompanied by a cat. Bob vanishes a few times but is always found; the author James Bowen is motivated to start improving his life and makes some positive changes. It’s a feel-good kind of story, and was an easy read that I dipped in and out of, occasionally skimming when it felt a bit dull or repetitive.

And there’s the nub: it’s not, actually, very well-written. My inner editor kept wishing it had been pared down (the two opening paragraphs, for instance, add nothing at all to the story) and that the writing was better. I understand that the book was commissioned as a result of Bob’s Internet fame, and I assume ghost-written as if James Bowen were chatting to someone - it has that kind of rambling feel to it.

Still, this is evidently what the general public likes. It’s an immensely popular book, which became a surprise bestseller shortly after it was released. And it’s a good story, with some obvious messages about the horrors of drug addition and the importance of family and friends. As an aside, I was interested to learn about ‘The Big Issue’ - a magazine I have occasionally been offered when in the UK, but never bought; I had no idea how or why it was sold.

It’s not that I don’t like cats: I very much enjoyed the book about Dewey the Library cat which I read a few years ago. I’m glad that Bob found such a good home. I’m also pleased that James Bowen not only got out of his addictions, but became financially independent after the publication of this book. But as a writer, I am disappointed that such a good story was written in a mediocre way.

It made a pleasant enough light holiday read - but I wouldn’t recommend buying it.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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