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  • Ninay Desai

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of a family on the verge of being torn apart by the rigours of life and a confluence of cruel circumstances. Denny Swift, one of the protagonists of the novel, aspires to be a professional race car driver even as he deals with family and financial issues. He is portrayed with much care and admiration by his fellow protagonist and the narrator of this story, Enzo. Half Labrador and half either Shepherd, Poodle or Terrier, Enzo is Denny’s greatest champion and loyal friend.

A copy of The Art of the Racing in the Rain on a cushion with a black dog lounging on a sofa. Photo by Ninay Desai.
Cola keeping me company while I read

Enzo’s role as the narrator is what sets The Art of Racing in the Rain apart from any other novel with similar good-people-in-tough-situations storylines. Enzo is old and unwell when the book opens and he narrates the story of his human family right from the day he met Denny as a puppy through all the highs and lows faced by the Swift family up until the present day.

Even for those who aren’t dog-lovers, Enzo’s love for racing, thirst for knowledge, perceptive discernment of human behaviour and his obsession with the power of opposable thumbs is charming. But that’s not it. Enzo desperately wants to be born as a human being in his next life. Though it’s ironic because he could teach the world a lesson or two in how to be human. Like the American journalist, Andy Rooney is reported to have said,

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”

Garth Stein creates Enzo - a character who is a sponge for trivia, history, weather updates, spiritual truths and everything in between. He prefers the Godfather series to Scarface (don’t we all?), has strong opinions on dining table etiquette and is a keen observer of human nature and storytelling. Enzo knows that a hero, in order to be loved, must have at least one flaw, making him or her relatable. And yet Stein upends the idea by making Enzo as close to perfect by making him a dog. But then, that’s how dogs are.

The title, The Art of Racing in the Rain pays homage to the legendary Formula 1 driver, Ayrton Senna’s tremendous feat of driving through the rain at the European Grand Prix in 1993. Enzo repeatedly tells us that Senna is his favourite driver. Racing in the rain also acts as a metaphor for tough times and how they can be travelled through with grace, courage and fortitude. Garth Stein uses the conversations between Denny and Enzo as channels to set up the themes of his novel. The power of manifestation is one such idea.

“The car goes where the eyes go.”

In other words, what we focus on is what we will find before us.

As far as the characterization goes, this is a book with two protagonists and a handful of secondary characters. We, as readers, are rooting for both protagonists and even more so, their bond and friendship. And yet, there are some perks set aside only for four-legged narrators. And one of those benefits is the benefit of no doubt.

Usually with first-person narrators, one is expecting them to gloss over their own flaws and indulge in some self-aggrandisement. These are the pitfalls of first-person narration. Not so with Enzo. Sure, he is well-spoken, wise and worldly but then you must understand that he is a documentary-watching dog with a philosophical bent of mind. For Enzo, there is no better human being than Denny and because Enzo is telling us his story, I’m more willing to believe that Denny’s character could perhaps be exaggerated by Enzo’s adoration than I’m willing to entertain the idea that Enzo could be less than truthful about himself.

The Art of Racing in the Rain lets us live out the fantasy of imagining what our pets would say if they could speak and illustrates what we, as pet-lovers, sometimes forget. That while, our pets might be only a part of our days and lives, we are the entirety of their days and lives. If each of them could write a book or make a movie, we’d all have starring roles in them.

Enzo spends his entire life wishing to be human and yet, it is us who would benefit from being more like him: in the way that he listens without interrupting, turns learnings into practice and loves with his whole heart. The scenes depicting his interactions with the Swifts’ little daughter, Zoë are especially touching.

Some of Enzo’s weather channel watching ways seem to have rubbed off on me as well. And so, I’d like to say that in case you’re looking for a heart-warming book about family, loyalty, loss, resilience and hope as the weather gets colder (at least here in the northern hemisphere), The Art of Racing in the Rain may be just the novel you’re looking for. A breezy read, it’s the kind of book that is bound to keep you engaged till the end, at which point, I assure you, it'll leave you with a lump in your throat. Consider yourself warned.

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Nov 11, 2023

Sounds like a sweet book particularly one is a dog lover. Love Cola's expression in the picture. 💖

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Nov 12, 2023
Replying to

Cola is a darling!

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