Book Review: Lost Dog By Kate Spicer

Book Review: Lost Dog By Kate Spicer

It seems there’s a trend for successful fashion journos writing about their dogs. First it was Emily Dean and now fashion and lifestyle writer Kate Spicer has written her debut memoir – a love story to her dog, Wolfy. Covering everything from childhood to motherhood, cocaine to canines, Lost Dog documents the loneliness and longing of London life and explores the myth of modern womanhood.

So, what is the book about?

Anyone who devours the Sunday supplements will be familiar with Kate Spicer. A lifestyle journalist who has written for the Sunday Times, The Times, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, Vogue, GQ, Red and Noble Rot, Spicer has appeared on television in everything from Masterchef to Newsnight and has made three documentaries, including the acclaimed Mission to Lars, about her autistic brother Tom’s dream to meet Lars Ulrich of Metallica. If you haven’t seen it, do – it’s life affirming.

In between covering for AA Gill’s restaurant column in the Sunday Times and writing features on everything from having a walk-in part on a porn film to LA’s ‘size zero’ culture, ‘cocaine yogis’ and being a Botox addict, Spicer has turned her wit to something closer to home – the disappearance of her dog, Wolfy.

When the book opens, Spicer is a 46-year-old trying to steer some order into a life that is going off the rails. But when she adopts a twice-abandoned lurcher, the shabby rescue dog saves her from herself. For the first half of the tale, we’re immersed into their life together and witness Spicer swap 7am finishes surrounded by coked up models for wholesome walks across Wormwood Scrubs. She finds she’s working better with Wolfy curled up on her toes, and relishes eschewing late nights out for an evening in with the dog and her boyfriend Charlie. She feels complete.

When Wolfy goes missing, Spicer hits the streets of London for nine days, convinced she’s lost everything. As she ploughs on endlessly calling his name, she stumbles upon others’ lives, finding friends among fortune tellers, bloggers and midnight joggers. Trying to find her dog tests her relationship to its very limits, and gets her thinking about life, and why things have turned out the way they have for her.

If you’re not a dog-lover will you still enjoy the read?

Absolutely, although we can’t guarantee that you won’t hanker after a hound of your own while reading it. The first chapter is the most beautifully descriptive passage about a group of strangers doing coke around a glass table you’ll ever read. Throughout the book, but in this chapter especially, Spicer lays herself bare, exposing all her weaknesses. She prods her decision not to have children and describes the way her mother friends see her; she explores the lack of balance in her relationship – one where he works all day and she stays out all night. And she addresses the lack of funds available if you’re a freelance writer, coke habit or not, and the reluctant dependence you end up placing on others as a result.

Having stripped herself down, Spicer is free to turn her attention to others. Her amusing descriptions of those she meets along the way are razor-sharp and perfectly drawn, whether they’re the friendly local caff owner who sneaks Wolfy sausages, a former editor who dropped her regular column or a holier-than-thou “wife of some guy with loadsamoney” she meets at a dinner party, who she paints with toe-curling accuracy. Even her boyfriend – who she takes great pains to depict as kind, reliable and patient – gets a good going over (the passive aggressive exchange they throw at one another while driving to pick up Wolfy for the first time is priceless – and a situation we’ve all been in). The way she captures the people we’ve all encountered in life is a real skill, and one that often had us roaring with laughter.

If you’re still searching for life’s goals, this book is for you.

Unmarried, short of cash and zero children – Spicer smashes every ‘life goal’ by showing that there are other, more interesting, ways to live. It’s a reassuring read for anyone in their 30s – and beyond – who thinks they haven’t quite got it all together just yet.

We can’t bang on enough about how brilliantly written it is – we found ourselves reading at a much slower pace than normal just to capture the imagery of each sentence. You’ll gain a stark impression of what her Notting Hill one-bed must look like, from the steep wooden steps that Wolfy clip-clops up, to the fridge – which she clambers on, naked – in chapter one to retrieve a hidden bottle of mescal at 6am, just as her boyfriend leaves for work. We can picture those who live alongside her – the animal-mad Janice who overfeeds Wolfy digestives; the 90-something neighbour who still loves a three-finger gin. Then there’s the dullness of A-list parties, contrasted with the crushing panic of freelance life, living invoice to invoice. The freeness with which Spicer allows us into her world is astounding.

But most of all, you’ll fall in love with Wolfy – his soft underbelly, his majestic gait, his reassuring presence. Having seen his disappearance play out on Twitter in 2015, we knew how this was going to end. But that takes nothing away from the latter half of the book in which Spicer helplessly hunts high and low, her newfound happiness ebbing away. If we were desperate for a sighthound before, Spicer has handed us a symphony of reasons to get one. We’ll be shoving the book into our partner’s hands immediately, hoping it has the same effect on them.

SL chats to Kate Spicer…

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get a dog?

Get ready for poo bags to take over every corner of your life. And ask yourself very seriously: do I have time for this animal? For its whole life it will rely on you for food, water, exercise and love. And, I repeat, you will have to pick up its poo, maybe 1,000 times a year if you live in a city. That’s a lot of shit.

Has having a dog changed you as a person?

My life changed when I got Wolfy in 2015. To be honest this was no bad thing because I was a bit all over the shop back then. It gave me discipline and a focus in my life that I lacked. Every day, however grudgingly, I have to go outdoors and take him for a walk. This is so good for the soul. Also, having a quiet and mellow companion with me all the time is heaven. I am a happier and more secure person. I definitely have more love in my life. If you like dogs, they’re like gifts to the human soul. Though I know not everyone does.

Did the outpouring of support when Wolfy went missing restore your faith in humanity?

During the days when my dog was missing, I was absolutely astounded by the support I received. So many people offered support, from famous people retweeting to people going out with their families to hunt for him. It was astonishing. Though I believe if you approach people with a smile, there’s not many that won’t respond with a smile back. Dog owners especially can be amazingly friendly.

Do you think getting Wolfy taught you more about love?

Definitely. He taught me that a life without love is utterly, utterly meaningless. Love is all you need, and a dog, like Wolfy can remind you of this every minute of the day.

It must have been so worrying when he disappeared. Did you grieve?

I have, touch wood, yet to lose a parent or suffer any major grief. When the dog was lost though, my God, I was burning with longing, sadness and a furious desire to find him. I think this was a kind of grief that I suffered. It was so all consuming, like being inside a hellish bubble while rolling around in the normal world. It was so hard. With love comes the very likely possibility of great pain. If you never love anything, how can you know loss or grief?

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