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Can shaggy dog stories make us happier?

Strange but true. In the tsunami of celebrity memoirs appearing in the run-up to Christmas, a clear favourite to top the bestseller lists has already emerged. The, ahem, author of said tome has a peculiar Russian accent and appears on TV in his dressing gown, yet he is expected to leave literary luminaries such as Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela and, er, Keith Richards, in the shade.

Strange but true. In the tsunami of celebrity memoirs appearing in the run-up to Christmas, a clear favourite to top the bestseller lists has already emerged. The, ahem, author of said tome has a peculiar Russian accent and appears on TV in his dressing gown, yet he is expected to leave literary luminaries such as Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela and, er, Keith Richards, in the shade.

Who is this literary prodigy you ask? Step forward, Aleksandr Orlov, aka the nation’s favourite meerkat. That Orlov’s ‘book’, A Simples Life: The Life And Times Of Aleksandr Orlov, has topped Amazon’s Movers and Shakers list before it’s even been published shouldn’t really come as such a surprise. At the last count Orlov had an astonishing 750,000 Facebook fans and 40,000 Twitter followers. He even has his own iPhone app.

Future scholars might muse that Orlov’s family story represents the quintessential immigrant experience — the struggles to master the language and win out against business competitiors in a cut-throat market. There is another factor behind the mass pre-orders though. In these grisly coalition times, animal memoirs are booming like never before. Novels such as Marley And Me: Life And Love With The World's Worst Dog and The Life And Opinions Of Maf The Dog, And Of His Friend Marilyn Monroe have attracted rave reviews. Other, less obvious successes have included Me Cheeta by James Lever, which documents the life of a Hollywood star who happens to be a chimp, and Dewey: The Small-town Library Cat Who Touched The World by Vicki Myron. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned SuBo’s Cat: The Imaginings Of Susan Boyle’s Pampered Pussy.

In times of stress and uncertainty, nothing lifts the spirits like a good shaggy dog story. Psychological research points to the fact that owning a pet can have a positive impact on both mental and physical health, raising the spirits and lowering cholesterol.

Stories about animals have another comforting side effect, too. They help us to reconnect with childhood. Back in the day, all the best stories featured animals, from the fluffy — Barbar, Watership Down and Paddington Bear — to Snoopy, now enjoying such a renaissance of cool that Moleskin notebooks no less have issued a commemorative edition devoted to everyone’s favourite beagle.

But utimately, the appeal of animal narratives must be greatest among people like me, for whom the commitment and expense of owning an actual pet is not an option. Being an armchair animal lover is the next best thing.