cover image A Dog's Life

A Dog's Life

Peter Mayle. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $20 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44122-9

Both canine ``memoir'' and cautionary tale, this sprightly account of the further adventures of Boy, Mayle's real-life dog introduced in Toujours Provence, is a gem of its kind. As animated by Mayle, Boy is a clever chap given to literary allusions, urbane observations and stinging bon mots. With many an arch and insightful comment, Boy celebrates his life after he escapes from his first owner, a brutish farmer, and is adopted by a kindly woman (thereafter called madame) and her ``other half,'' a rather dim-witted soul who is of course Mayle himself. Boy's encounters with wrathful butchers and irate owners of dogs in heat and of treed cats are the high points of this picaresque tale, balanced by his admonitions on how to acquire social polish and communicate effectively with insensitive humans. From his spot under the dining-room table, Boy receives ``a wide ranging, eclectic education,'' learning chiefly that ``the management,'' as he calls his owners, are incorrigible and bibulous party givers. Boy himself proves incorrigible too: in hilarious scenes, he explains how he overestimates human intelligence time and again. While most of the episodes have the ring of truth, those toward the end of this slim volume veer toward farce and bear the marks of having been thought up to pad out the pages. Yet this is a delightful read, augmented by Koren's suitably droll illustrations, and the closing sentence is worthy of inclusion in any quiz about famous last lines. 125,000 first printing; author tour; Random House audio book. (Mar.)