In Grayling’s debut fiction, William Colbert is saved by a mysterious dog that will change his life.
In the afterlife known as Everlife, a procession of dogs and cats is called to gather at an ancient talking tree named Cambium. There, they receive their new assignments and return to Earth to teach humans new lessons and learn a few of their own. Lanagan, a beautiful white dog, embarks on a journey that will forever change the rules in Everlife when he is sent to find workaholic William Colbert. During a visit to his parents, William’s car hits a snowy drift and leaves him wandering aimlessly in the cold. He is later found by rescuers, with the mysterious white dog whose warmth helped him survive the night. The paramedics mistakenly take the dog—whom they christen Murphy—as William’s own, and William doesn’t correct them. With Murphy in his life, William finally finds balance and happiness, unveiling the lesson at the heart of Grayling’s novel: Animals help us to be more selfless, kind and whole. It’s not a lesson unique to William, however. After her best friend passes away, his mother finds solace in a cat named Peaches, who was also sent from Everlife. When Murphy eventually passes away, Murphy returns to Everlife where he misses his owner terribly. This sentiment leads him on a quest that takes him through jungles and mountains and across an ocean to ask Olde Crow, the oldest of creatures, if he can once again see William. The answer could change everything in Everlife. Grayling’s portrayal of Everlife is a unique imagining of the other side; natural habitats that mimic winter, summer, spring and fall give the animals places to roam and enjoy. Although the novel depends too much on sentimentality and melodrama, the emotions of both human and animal characters still ring true. The anthropomorphism of the animals can tend to be a bit heavy-handed at times, which may make some readers wish the animals were a little less human in thought and body.
Grayling creates rich worlds that speak to the love humans and animals feel for one another.