Photo courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com
“Heartwarming! Touching! Reaffirms your faith in humanity!” said the Goodreads reviews.
“I thought it was rubbish!” said my mother after she read it.
Personally, I can see my mum’s point. Even though I did find the story quite touching, I also found James Bowen’s attitude quite annoying in places. You see, A Streetcat Named Bob is the story of Bowen, a young homeless man living in a hostel in London. He found Bob the Cat outside his apartment and took him in, feeding and caring for him as well as he could. The book is the story of their lives together, busking and selling the Big Issue.
Before anyone thinks I’m a monster, I’d like to clarify that I have every sympathy with homeless people. I know that everyone has different experiences in life, that people sometimes make mistakes or bad decisions and that everyone deserves help when they need it. I can’t imagine sleeping rough or in a homeless shelter or what that would do to your self esteem. However, I also think that if you are offered assistance, you have a duty to try your hardest to also help yourself – and that was my problem with this book.
Despite the fact that Bowen was classed as a vulnerable adult, entitled to benefits and a place in a hostel, he still managed to book himself a holiday to Australia. Throughout the book, his attitude to work seemed to be that he could just busk for a few hours a day to supplement his benefits enough to continue his life in the hostel. I appreciate that he may have some mental health issues as well as poor physical health and that it might be really difficult to get a job with a presumably dodgy employment history, but there was absolutely no attempt to try. I got really annoyed that even after being accepted as a Big Issue seller, he continuously broke their rules and even sold it after they had banned him! Sure, the situation wasn’t entirely Bowen’s fault, but his refusal to try to sort the problem out made me loose quite a lot of sympathy for him. Again, I’m guessing this comes back to poor mental health but it read as though he just wanted to take the easy way out.
Despite this attitude, I did find a lot of what Bowen did quite inspirational. As an ex heroin addict he transitioned to being a methadone user and throughout the course of the book manages to become completely clean, which is obviously an absolutely massive achievement to be applauded. It seemed that Bowen’s love for Bob gave him back some of his self esteem, and as he grew in confidence he managed to tackle a number of his problems, reconciled with family and, obviously, became a published author. It was lovely to see how Bowen was able to start putting his life back on track and what a positive influence a pet can be.
In terms of the way that the book is written, I have to be honest – it’s not great. Some parts were quite repetitive, others got a bit confusing. The dialogue can be a bit literal and whilst it was interesting to see what life for Bowen was like, I wanted to know more about his thoughts and feelings, his back story and his relationships with others. He mentions friends and family but doesn’t go into detail and whilst I understand that he may not want to discuss certain aspects of his life, it may have given the reader a better understanding of his situation.
If I took anything away from this book, it was a better understanding of the amazing work that the Big Issue does. (For those of you who aren’t aware, the Big Issue is a magazine that homeless people are allowed to sell for a small profit.) I do try to buy a copy whenever I see a vendor but I’ll definitely make more of an effort now.
Overall, I found this book to be both inspirational and quite annoying in equal measure. It’s an easy read but it’s not brilliantly written. Maybe see the film instead.
Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #10 Read a book with a cat on the cover.