Reviewed by Jeanne
In 2007, James Bowen was a down and nearly out street musician in London, getting by on tips from passersby. He had no real direction; he was just scraping by, living in government subsidized housing, and with a drug habit he hadn’t been able to break. Then one day he rescued a sick cat and his life hasn’t been the same since.
He dubbed the cat Bob, and fully expected him to return to wherever he came from once he was better, but Bob had other ideas. He started following James to work, drawing a crowd who couldn’t believe the cat wasn’t really part of the act. Before long, James and Bob were inseparable, and James’ need to be able to take care of his feline buddy gave him the strength and purpose he needed to try to get his life in order and to reunite with his estranged family in Australia. It wasn’t easy, and there were a lot of setbacks along the way, but it’s no secret that James and Bob triumph in the end.
The pleasure of this book is in the plainspoken honesty with which James tells his story, and the wonderful relationship between man and cat. This isn’t a slick, packaged tale but a heartfelt account of what it means to have someone who depends on and believes in you unconditionally. I understand that James had some help composing his book, but if he did the helper was careful to let James' personality shine through.
I also really enjoyed the description of London and the other buskers who ply their trades there; as might be guessed, there are a number of turf wars over prime spots. I’ve seen street performers in many places but had never thought much about what it was like to earn one’s living that way. I was most struck by the sense of isolation James conveys: how often people are reluctant to even acknowledge the presence of a performer, never making eye contact, or exchanging a word. Having Bob accompany him was a breakthrough, because people were more likely to interact or at least respond in some way—even if some of the responses were negative.
Later, as James tries to straighten out his life, he begins selling Big Issue, a project whereby the homeless and unemployed are encouraged to become vendors. It's a bit much to explain in a review, but basically they are set up with issues of the magazine to start them off earning their own money so they can take control of their lives. (There is an American version as well.) Having Bob as his selling partner drew customers, but also drew the ire of some competitors.
Best of all, this feel good story has a happy ending that just keeps on going: not only is Bob still alive, but he and James are thriving. A Street Cat Named Bob came out in the UK in 2012 and became an international best seller. The American version is out now. A second book, The World According to Bob, has just been published in the UK. James and Bob have a very active Facebook page, where fans post pictures of the book in settings from all over the world, or as James calls it, “Around the World in Eighty Bobs.” So here is Bob in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee:
|Bob visits the state line marker NOT in the middle of the street.|
|Bob at Bristol Public Library|
|And of course, Melon "meets" Bob!|