I wish I could like Please Take Me Home more than I do. It’s a worthwhile but troubling account of our relationship with cats. It’s full of interesting and unusual information. But there it stops. The problem with this book is its narrative arc, how it presents its argument, and the presentation of sources.
For a start, there’s no index. Unforgivable in this book and in many others that I read. How are you supposed to find that bit of interesting information again if you can’t look it up in the index? Yes, I write notes with a pencil on the pages; however, in doing so I do it not as an alternative to an index but in addition to one. An index is a basic ingredient in nonfiction books. Any without one automatically looses its credibility in my, er, book.
There are many references. They’re not presented in the way that I prefer but never mind. They’re there. But there are also many interesting points made without a reference. Where did the author find this out? I often found myself asking. Am I supposed to take the author’s word for it? Clearly, the author, Clare Campbell, is a cat lover, as she says so at the beginning of the Author’s Note. And I don’t doubt this for one moment. At the end she speaks passionately and proudly about the adoption of two rescued cats, Fergus and Luis. Her bio says she’s written other books, some about animals, along with her husband, a former defence correspondent at The Sunday Telegraph. Clearly, a lot of research went into the writing of this book; but despite all the references, I couldn’t help but note as I read through that I would periodically find interesting bits of information that were not referenced. The lack of an index and the mixed report on references makes it difficult for me to be able to use this book as an invaluable resource and reference.
There’s also a subtext to the narrative that just didn’t sit well with me. And it’s difficult for me to explain why. It is critical of cat advocacy, for want of a better phrase, and rightly so at times. But there are times when I think, “What’s the really being said here?” There’s a subtext to this text that doesn’t quite declare itself. So, what’s going on?
Well, at times, it’s unclear as to knowing exactly what the author is saying. The writing is sloppy at times. For example,
The climb of the cat into the sunlight of middle-class respectability had reached its balmy noontide just as the windows of British suburbia were being measured for blackout curtains. p. 189
Here’s an example of the framing that I found troubling. This is taken from the discussion on animal rights:
‘Rights’ meant doing something about changing the minds of people, by waving placards, writing books, sending hate mail, making death threats. p. 254
There’s a passing reference to animal ethics in which Peter Singer is referred to as “Mr Singer” and not Professor Singer. Nearby, she incorrectly cites Ingrid Newkirk as PETA’s only founder when Alex Pacheco was also there. She talks about, in another example of sloppy writing, the “Provisional Wing” of feral enthusiasts. Anyone seen a cat caretaker with an AK47 tucked under her arm as she carried bags of dry cat food from the car to the colony?
On page 266 she relegates to a footnote a reference to Phyllis Wright for
also coincidentally be a driving force behind the shift in the US to the use of sodium pentobarbital injection for small animal euthanasia.
This was part of an effort to stop the use of gas and the decompression chambers used in the 1960s, 1970s and even thereafter. Now, whatever you think about Phyllis Wright and The HSUS, I think this is a significant positive development for cats and deserves not to be relegated to a footnote. This point is particularly noteworthy given the author frequently disparages caring people who were doing their best to helping cats by taking action that we, in hopefully more enlightened times, would not do. In fact, the occasional footnote often felt like the absence of an important point had been discovered from the final draft and was stitched in at the last minute.
So, the citation problem and the troubling narrative are the reasons why I can’t think more positively about this book than I do.
Again, I don’t doubt the author’s commitment to cats and, albeit beyond the reach of this book, animals in general. Nonetheless, there’s an unnecessary amount of gratuitous remarking made about people, organisations, and activities that I could have done without. This is very much the author’s personal subjective account. It is at times an interesting read but it is not a scholarly history that can be trusted as a resource. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that.