There is something wonderful about finding unexpected pleasures in life that exponentially expands–at least in my life–when that something is a book you’ve just finished reading. Everything about Russell Potter’s debut novel PYG: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig indicated that it had potential to be a charming read but nothing prepared me for the totally immersion I felt as I dived into the first of its 274 pages. As each page seemed to fly by I found myself no only believing Potter was an immensely talented and capable author but that Toby, the learned pig who was the purported true “author” of the book with Potter simply editing his porcine scribblings, was the damnedest pig I’d ever had the pleasure of getting to know.
And that is exactly what you do through the pages of this book, by the way. You get to know this wonderful character of Toby, a late-eighteenth century “remarkable sapient Pig” who takes England and this reader’s heart from start to finish.
After a sterling opening-page note of endorsement by William Cullen, MD–Fellow of the Royal Society and member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh–which states that the author of all that follows is, anatomically and in every other sense, a PIG, we are introduced to Toby, a pig born on a small farm not far from Manchester, owned by Mr. Francis Lloyd.
From there Toby’s life seems to be what you might expect of a pig on a farm, ultimately leading him to a point in his life when he is sold and in danger of becoming, well, part of a typical English breakfast. But fortune and the friendship of Sam, the young son a Mr. Lloyd, strive to extricate him from those circumstances, thrusting him upon the stage of life without any hint of where it might take him.
Where indeed would life take a pig and a young boy? From the muddy fields as they run from dogs and men, to the company of a man who helps succor the two and train them to be part of a touring circus of sorts, where Toby wows audiences with his surprising abilities to count, spell, and even read the minds of some of the ladies in the audience (with their given permissions, of course).
It’s a very heady life for a young pig and boy – indeed I think it would be for anyone whether on two feet or four – and when circumstances, some of them perilous and quite dangerous, present themselves Toby finds himself desiring to step out of the performing spotlight and continue his education.
And what an education!
Toby finds himself beginning to broaden his mind with studies at both Oxford and Edinburgh, and here we see some true intellectual luminaries step onto the stage and share a bit of the spotlight with this tiny protagonist–ones such as Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Blake.
Toby’s life, even when we see that he has survived much and achieved much more than perhaps ever dreamt of from those days spent at Mr. Lloyd’s farm, is so colorful and entertaining that at the end of it all I actually found myself glad (GLAD!) that this pig had the foresight to take the time to settle down and tell his own story for posterity’s sake.
It was only a moment when I, finished turning the last page, stared for a bit at the cover that I realized “Wait, this wasn’t really written by a pig, you idiot.”
Only, it was.
Toby the Learned Pig is a vibrant and amazingly alive and TRUE character that only comes once in a while in the very rarest of books and I simply do not have the words adequate to thank Mr. Potter for this book and for that magical pig’s entrance into my own imagination.
He lives there now at the side of Peter Pan, Nicholas Nickleby, Harry Potter, and any other number of adventurous souls of fiction. I just loved Toby the Learned Pig. I loved every page of it and I cannot wait for you (yes, YOU!) to pick up your own copy of this book and fall in love with it as I have.