I saw the film of this at the cinema last year and was so moved by it that I read the book soon after. James Bowen was a busker and recovering heroin addict living in sheltered accommodation in London when he encountered an injured but friendly stray cat (whom he names Bob) that found its way into his block of flats. The two quickly become inseparable companions and the book follows all the highs and lows they share together, it is their loyalty and devotion to each other that drives the book forward.
James is living a hand to mouth existence for most of the book, but spends the little money he earns busking and selling the Big Issue magazine on cat food and vet’s bills. From the offset, James is a responsible pet-owner, taking Bob to the vet, getting him neutered and micro-chipped. Taking care of Bob gives James a purpose, and it seems like the simple routine of caring for the cat keeps him tethered to normality, and he is rewarded with Bob’s affection and trust.
Having adopted a rescue-cat of my own from the Scottish SPCA, I could relate to James’ speculation about Bob’s past, as he tries to understand the quirks and behaviour that might offer clues about Bob’s life before they became companions.
Throughout A Street Cat Named Bob, James shows humbling insight into how society regards homeless people and addicts, drawing attention to the deliberate blindness of passers-by and how it felt to be invisible. He also describes the vulnerability of working on the streets of London, trying to eke out a living from busking and selling the Big Issue, as well as the numerous barriers facing those trying to turn their lives around.
This is a rags-to-riches autobiography in a sense, yet this is a also a tale of recovery, second chances and above all the friendship that develops between a recovering addict and a stray cat.