Essentially a love story of a different breed, “Marley & Me” charts the ups and downs of John and Jenny, a couple who decide to pick up a Labrador retriever, oblivious to the temperament of their chosen puppy. As anybody who has seen the movie adaptation will know, the dog (named after Bob Marley) proceeds to wreck unholy havoc in the couple’s house in Florida. However, in spite of Marley’s many and varied shortfalls, the couple dote on Marley through thick and thin, right to the painful end.

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Right from the off, the reader is thrust headlong into the canine-orientated madness of their world, with Marley forever at the centre of the narrative. However, as the story progresses, Marley’s frolics take something of a back-seat as John and Jenny face the heartbreak borne out of a miscarriage. Ironically, it’s Marley who provides Jenny with precisely what she needs the most: no words, just comfort. Indeed, time and again, Marley proves himself to be the most understanding dog imaginable, picking up on emotions better than some of the humans featured in the story.

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“Marley & Me” is peppered with as much seriousness as comedy, not least when a ‘neighbour’ is stabbed and John has to rush to her rescue, Marley quite literally jumping into the role of Guard-Dog.

Jenny goes on to have three children, all of whom grow up with Marley as their best friend. With John opting for a different kind of writing job in Pennsylvania, the family relocates, ditching Florida’s sun-centred lifestyle in favour of four seasons. As expected, Marley goes crazy for the snow that Pennsylvania duly delivers come winter, though by the time they move up north, Marley’s age is beginning to wear him down. Sadly, it’s only a matter of time before he begins to develop health problems. It breaks everybody’s heart to see the once exuberant Marley struggling to climb up the porch steps. Not wanting their beloved pet to suffer in any way, John and Jenny eventually decide to have Marley put to sleep.

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Tremendously moving on multiple levels, John’s tenderly-worded writing cuts straight to the heart. He’s the first to admit that he nurtured a stronger rapport with Marley than he has with many humans. For sure, his dog was terribly behaved, yet his lust for life always won-out, his zestful approach to every single day a huge inspiration to the Grogan family.

Reflecting on the movie adaptation, I don’t quite know how the casting director came to plant Owen Wilson in John’s half-chewed shoes: he doesn’t bear any physical similarity to John, that’s for sure… yet he somehow still fits his shoes remarkably well. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve never seen the movie all the way through. I only caught the ending when it premiered on terrestrial TV, at which point my mum bustled out of the lounge, too upset to witness the inevitable.

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Throughout the book, I cried as much as I laughed, resistance to the emotional rollercoaster therein proving futile. When all is said and done, “Marley & Me” represents a truly beautiful, life-affirming read, and it moved me in more ways than I ever imagined possible.


(Steve Rudd)

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