We Think the World of You

(By J.R. Ackerley.
First published in 1960.)

Born in Victorian England, J.R. Ackerley was both a successful writer and openly gay. Known primarily as a memoirist, he is famous for his opening to “My Father and Myself”: “I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.” Simple sentences such as these whisper rather than shout their underlying humor, and run throughout Ackerley’s prose.

His brightest literary moment may have been the publication of his only novel, “We Think the World of You.” In it, he brings together three winning themes: dogs, gay men and class relations. Its narrator, Frank, is a haughty middle-aged civil servant who volunteers to look after his so-called friend’s German shepherd while the man is away for a year. The friend is ne’er-do-well, working-class, hot-bodied Johnny, who has been thrown in jail for a year for burglarizing houses. Lust for Johnny is the sole reason Frank agrees to the job.

“We Think the World of You”: By J.R. Ackerley. First published in 1960.

“We Think the World of You”: By J.R. Ackerley. First published in 1960.

Part of caring for Evie the dog involves Frank’s entanglement with Johnny’s extended family, whom he loathes: Johnny’s pregnant wife Megan, their mouthy kids, Johnny’s brazen mother Millie and Millie’s fourth husband, Tom. A classic Frank sentiment: “I noticed at once that, in my short absence, the window had been closed. The working classes, I reflected with a shrug, have an ineradicable belief that the colds from which they constantly suffer are due to fresh air rather than to the lack of it.”

As tensions increase over who is to care for the dog, the character who emerges as having the most significant emotional life is Evie herself. At first, uncomfortable with her and as contemptuous toward her as he is toward the rest of Johnny’s family, Frank of course falls madly in love with the beast and refuses to be parted from her. —Mary Welp