Tom Cox’s work is often reduced to “cat books,” and that’s not right. Yes, an adorable cat adorns the cover, all whiskers and impossibly melancholy eyes. And anyone who’s ever had a pet knows that they’re part of the family. But Cox’s books—closer to series of personal essays than memoirs—are much more than the gimmick-y sort that sit at the check-out lane of bookstores. Poignant, funny, and thoughtful, reading Cox is like receiving a letter from your best overseas friend, just the right blend of amusing anecdote and personal update. His latest, Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind, is just as indelibly charming as the rest of his output, a mix between All Creatures Great And Small and David Sedaris.
Furred Kind finds Cox moving house from Norfolk to Devon, searching for a home suitable for his entourage of animals. Under the amusing stories of cat personalities is a deeper treatise on country living in England, with its specific challenges and rewards. The human cast of characters is as interesting as the feline cast, with friends like Seventies Pat and Cox’s father—who speaks exclusively through shouting/all-caps—making welcome appearances. And while Cox mentions his girlfriend, she’s not a focus, which might seem like a side note but is actually a key detail to the enjoyment of reading Cox: Like the rest of his work, it’s frankly refreshing to read an engaging memoir that doesn’t focus on personal relationships and the sorts of “personal growth” or “overcoming big challenges” seemingly intrinsic to the genre. Cox’s relationships with cats and rural life are more than enough to spin gold from, and make for a welcome relief from the heaviness of many memoirs, as soothing as a purring cat in your lap.
The stories are greatly bolstered by the inclusion of photos—thank goodness that neither author nor his publisher balk at the parallel price tag—and the loving, often very funny descriptions of the cats (and a new weekly dog companion) make it easy to fall in love with his pets. The Bear is still the most fascinating study in feline personhood, his penetrating, philosophical eyes matched by his quietly studious aura and meditative calm. He’s the oldest of the four cats, or as Cox writes, “a cat precisely the age of the second Oasis album but to whom time had been far kinder.” There’s also Ralph, a boisterous narcissist and spiritual companion to Seventies Pat (as Ralph sports a “mutton-chopped, early 1970s rock star look”); Shipley (who meows like he’s letting loose a steam of cuss words); and the youngest, Roscoe (with the “industrious air of a cat who was constantly running late for an important corporate PowerPoint presentation”). Continuing a books-long thread, Cox remains a cat magnet, meaning there’s more than one stray to add color to the cast, not to mention the cats of his parents, neighbors, parent’s neighbors, and the new village cat.
Slipping into Cox’s world is enough to make a city-dweller long for ambling walks through the countryside and a cottage full of cats for company. Whether or not it’s due to Americans’ tendency to romanticize those aspects of life we see as intrinsically British, there is an abundance of English wit here. Cox is in top form, writing as eloquently about the death of a pet (be prepared for the sudden onset of tears) as he does about a feral cat (“his appearance seemed to sum up all the woes of being homeless in David Cameron’s Britain”). Close Encounters Of The Furred kind is a great book to read if you love cats, but it’s also just a great book.
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