Esther Press 21 November 2011 - 11:08am
This book, ‘discovered and edited’ from its original eighteenth century edition by Russell Potter, is the memoir of the unusual life of Toby.
In many ways, this story of Toby’s life could be considered very normal for a citizen of the time, as he progresses from his humble beginnings to success with the assistance of a good education. Except that Toby happens to be a pig.
Just like a regular pig, Toby starts life on a farm in Salford, but a friendship with a young boy and a surprising turn of events means that he avoids the fate usually destined for those of the porcine race and instead embarks upon the path of learning. The book takes inspiration from the picaresque novel which flourished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and charts the loveable Toby’s adventures from life as a performer with a travelling show to scholarly success in Oxford and Edinburgh.
The narrative is very clearly fixed in the historical setting of its time, painting a detailed picture of life in rural England and Ireland as we follow Toby from town to town in his rise to notoriety. The amount of research which has gone into the creation of Toby’s social milieu is also impressive, as he fraternises with the scholars and luminaries of his day (Doctor Johnson, Robert Burns and Sarah Siddons to name a few).
The delightful series of twists and turns Toby meets with on his rise to success are thoroughly entertaining. However, as well as plenty of laugh out loud moments the book also contains some powerful social commentary, as we are invited to look at the downfalls of human nature from a ‘pig’s eye view’. This witty narrative style combined with the engaging historical setting succeeds in creating an immensely entertaining read.