SWFT Wellbeing Reading Group book review – Olive, Mabel & Me : Life and adventures with Two Very Good Dogs by Andrew Cotter

What did you do during Lockdown? Andrew Cotter, a well-known sports commentator whose voice is recognised by people across the world, decided on the spur of the moment to narrate a video he took of his two dogs eating, and two stars were born. Admittedly the stars were four legged and furry, rather than athletic and dynamic, but Olive and Mabel became an internet sensation virtually overnight. The series of videos Andrew made of his canine now celebrities have been viewed over 50 million times on social media. In this part memoir, part journal, wholly interesting book, Andrew talks about his life with his beloved Labradors, and his equally beloved mountains.

This was a bit of a change for our book group as it was the first non fiction book we had read together. While not all our readers would put themselves in the ‘dog person’ category, there was enough in the book to interest most people – animal fans or not. The general view of the group discussion was that it was a light and enjoyable read, and several readers said they could almost hear the author narrating it.

Several readers said that it captured the essence and weirdness of Lockdown when people’s normal daily routines just stopped and life seemed to be on pause. However the book didn’t focus on the videos Andrew created in Lockdown and the famous (and not so famous) fans who asked for more, but on his life with dogs. The text (and photographs) talked of dogs he had known as a child, periods he’d longed for but hadn’t had a dog, and the acquisition of Olive and Mabel. This led to an interesting side discussion about how reading this book had made readers want their own dogs, although most of our group didn’t currently have time/space yet!

The book was described as quirky but one reader, who likened the feeling of the book to Terry Pratchett’s writing. It definitely had charm, as most of the group agreed, and they liked the distinctive self deprecating style. The book especially ticked a lot of boxes for some readers with its combination of rugby, hill walking, and dogs. The description of climbing Mount Fuji in Japan was also mentioned by another reader as showing the difference between cultures, as the mountain was closed for the season, but the author simply moved the cones closing it and went up. Even the non-walkers of our group seemed to generally enjoy the descriptions of the mountains, as you could almost see the author battling against the elements, and the two dogs racing along without a care in the world.

Our book choice for April is Anxious People by Fredrick Backman, translated by Neil Smith:

It’s not often that you go to an open viewing of an apartment on New Year’s Eve. It’s even less often that the viewing gets taken over by a panicked bank robber who takes eight strangers hostage…

‘a brilliant and comforting read’ (Matt Haig)
‘Funny, compassionate and wise… an absolute joy…’ (AJ Pearce)