The author blames his dog for the fact that he was blocked for two years. But pets provide a vital emotional lifeline for anybody who spends time alone
In an essay for the New Yorker, Karl Ove Knausgaard has detailed two difficult years of owning a dog, wondering if its presence in his home was connected to the fact that he did not write a line of literary prose during that period. (“Merely essays and articles,” he notes.) It was such a problem for him, he writes, that his six-volume autobiographical series, My Struggle, was originally called The Dog. “Has a single good author ever owned a dog?” he asks drily.
The essay is not an indictment of dog ownership, as such. Knausgaard admits that the dog was barely trained, that he saw too much of himself in the animal and that the failings were his own. He ended up giving it to a family, he says, that knew how dogs should be treated.
But Ernest Hemingway had dogs, as did, to name just a few others, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, EB White, John Cheever, PG Wodehouse and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. For writers who are not struggling to get down six volumes of painfully detailed autobiography – or freelancers without fixed hours, or anyone who works from home, or anyone who lives alone – having a pet can be a salve. A good dog is good company, less demanding than another person and far more devoted, in exchange for ear scratches. I have found that isolation feels muted with an animal around, even if the only things you have said that morning are: “Was that you?” and “What have you been eating?”
Crucially, a dog forces you into the world. If you have a problem to solve, time away from a screen in the fresh air makes you think differently. Before having a dog, if I had a busy week, I could stay indoors for longer than is healthy. Without exercising social skills, it’s incredible how quickly they start to collapse. Dogs take you outside, they make you walk and move, they train you in the art of polite chat with strangers. Dogs make the world seem less cold and less alien. Isn’t that the point of the best writing, too?