on 19 September 2013
This is a slim novel which nevertheless makes a "full meal" as a reading experience, and takes a lot of time to read - you can't skim, due to the emotional and stylistic density of the prose.
It's very beautiful and, I thought, written with real emotional/psychological acuity. This makes it a difficult read in places, as we spend most of our time down in the real rough edges of life, with people who live "outside the remit" of everything. It's not a bleeding-heart book, though; it's unwavering in its commitment to be true to the characters and to the difficulties in questions of victimhood, "life choices", and addiction.
There are no easy answers (much as we would like to think there are) and this book stares the difficulties of Life full in the face.
I couldn't help but admire the depth of research the author must have done, and yet it never comes across as "look at all my research".
Really brilliant & different.
on 21 April 2014
The novel starts promisingly enough, with a middle-aged man, Robert's lonely death in his flat, and the reader starts to piece together the pieces of his life through his friends and acquaintances. It also boasts a unique multi-character POV narrative, with a greek-chorus perspective as they look on as observers from when the police find his body, to the journey to the morgue, where a gorily-detailed post-mortem is conducted on Robert's body, even as the chorus simultaneously delivers flashbacks on Robert and his friends and gives an insight into the lives of his friends, an amorphous group of drug addicts that include his estranged daughter Laura, who rather conveniently, congregate in and disperse from his flat, as Robert wastes away on his alcohol addiction and no one really cares.
And this is where the novel starts to unravel. Perhaps to reflect the consciousness of the drugged-out characters, the prose begins to fragment and drift into a vaporous muddle, as the focus shifts onto each member of the ensemble cast with their disimilar (and yet seemingly undifferentiated) tales of wasted lives in a downward spiral. The stream-of-consciousness style worked in McGregor's first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, because it read like a prose poem, and the ensemble cast of characters were fleshed out and elicited reader empathy. That was not at all evident in this novel, and I just felt frustrated with the (I suspect, intentionally) opaque, fragmented prose. In the end, the poignancy of Robert's death and the realization that the greek chorus was made of the very ones who had passed on to the afterlife had very little impact on me, which is a major disappointment.
on 22 February 2013
If one wants to feel uncomfortable, challenged, annoyed or even frustrated this is the book for you.
Not an easy read, but well worth the effort. The language is clever and an unusual use of syntax makes the need to focus
A story of people who are lost, those we would sooner forget as they are not deserving of our pity. Those who appear to choose
paths of selfish indulgence,leading to their own destruction. McGregor brings compassion and understanding and at the end of the book one is left feeling ashamed of having judged those, who but for the grace of God could go you or I!
I was very impressed with Jon McGregor's first two novels and this one was no exception.
The story begins with the body of a man (Robert) being discovered in his run-down flat. He has been dead for some time, and due to his shambolic lifestyle the police have difficulty piecing together the last moments of his life. Robert was an alcoholic, and the friends he allowed to doss in his flat were drug addicts, all living on the margins of society. This short but very descriptive book looks at the reasons behind each character's descent into this squalid existence, ranging from loss of their family or a childhood in care, to harrowing experiences serving Queen and Country in the Army.
McGregor uses a similar device to the one he used in If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - that of the unnamed narrator/observer moving from one scene to the next as the characters' stories unfold. Again I think it worked very well, particularly when combined with his poetic writing style and wonderful ear for dialogue.
Yes it's bleak and uncomfortable to read at times, but it's also a very moving and poignant story and I found I really came to care about the people whose desperate lives were laid bare on the page before me.
on 17 July 2010
I ordered this book have read about John McGregor, and read some of the reviews on Amazon. This was the first John McGregor book that I read. The style of writing is descriptive and poetic, and at first I was unsure whether I would complete or even enjoy reading the book. Having quickly got used to the style of writing, I read the book quickly and found it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The story is tragic, and the way in which John McGregor develops the characters, provides detail and your quickly build a picture of the characters and their lives they live. This book really does make you think, and I found myself looking forward to reading the book.
I have since gone onto read John McGregor's other books. Another reviewer has referred to the author as being a "big bang" within literature, this is something I really agree with. It is not often that you come across an author who writes that is so descriptive, emotive and poetic in style.
on 11 October 2010
A strange combination, this. In essence, it's a formless freewheel that follows the death of an alcoholic in an East Midlands estate. At various junctures, his friends, acquaintances and family fill in some of the gaps of a life surrounded by drugs, squalor and struggle.
For much of the book it would seem to be carefully researched, and as `authentic' as you would wish. The gritty detail is there, and little is spared. The language, too, is essentially the thoughts and words of the individuals written down, including the pauses and unfinished sentences. However, it often seems false or stilted - the addicts appear unduly co-operative, and reluctant to resort to crime or violence for their next fix. My understanding of this kind of addict is that they would happily sell their granny to score, but in the novel this desperation is rarely present. In addition, some of the characters seem to blend together into the same person, and the constant tailing off of sentences passes from realistic, to just plain annoying.
The structure is a further problem - the book is deliberately shapeless, but this robs it of any immediacy. Instead, the reader floats around and occasionally drops in, but out of temporal sequence. It is a stylistic decision, but it detracts from what the author is trying to convey - it is too bitty to allow the reader to build up any lasting emotions. Less would be more, here.
Ultimately, I want to like this book because it attempts something brave, it is often unflinching, and it shines a light that needs to be shone. However, the shapeless and messy style, the lack of distinction between characters, and hints of punch-pulling by the author, count against it.
on 17 April 2013
Hmmm not an easy read - either the subject matter or the style but it is a very good book. The central premise is the finding of the long dead body of Robert an alcoholic, who lived in a decaying flat along with a a number of passing itinerant addicts/ friends. The story is told in a fragmented style switching from friend to friend and inter-cut with the police activity as they take him away and go through the process of determining who he was and why he died. As the novel progresses you learn about Robert's life and the lives of the various other characters and how people can fall through society. The stories are grim and the details dreadful but all have the ring of truth. Very well written, you need to persist long enough to begin to see the pattern though, the beginning can feel rather daunting.
This book relates an aspect of society that we all ought to be more aware of than we are - addicts whose priority is where the next fix is going to come from. They worry about many other things but that feeling is the most important is the world.
There are many areas which could be explored further but I think that the author has deliberately pared down the story (to just over 200 pages) so that the focus is on the addiction itself
Nothing is spared and the descriptions are very visual. I suspect that most people reading this book will never have been to anywhere like the places included in this book but you will get an idea of the feeling of the underworld.
Why only three stars? Because I did not enjoy reading the book. It is good and worthy but not a great experience to read. Only for the dedicated......
on 23 February 2010
As one character, Steve, explains a charity trip, to another character, Ant, an almost throw away remark is made. Steve recalls that during the trip, a so called police man said to him, as he tried to deliver aid to Bosnia, "There is nothing for you there. There, even the dogs are dead." It is out of this sentence that Jon McGregor's third novel, Even the Dogs, gains its title. For me in what follows, in the novel, the title functions as a relative statement if only to briefly remind us that even though we might think we have sunk far down into the mire there is possibly someone or group of people worst off than us. For all its bleakness, as one reads the novel it is soon realised that the title also portrays a sense of hope.
The setting of Even the Dogs is the harsh, bleak world of drugs and alcohol abuse. We are not told in which town or city McGregor's characters function but it could be any large town or city. Christmas has not long expired and Robert is discovered dead in his flat. During the time of his death so called friends who visit the flat, and might have discovered Robert's body, panic and flitter away. The police subsequently arrive on the scene and Robert's body is eventually taken to a mortuary. The body is accompanied by a plural we narrator. McGregor then structures his novel on the basis of 5 long chapters that focuses on how the state deals with such an event and on another level allows the narration to flow, as if recalled from memory, in an impressionistic manner. In short what we get is a delineation of the lives of a group of characters set in a social milieu of substance abuse.
The story although straight forward commands close attention as McGregor allows his narrator to slip from the present to the past and back to the present without any sign post. Indeed, it seems as if that whilst focusing on the present situation of Robert's death, the narrator imagines the action and behaviour of a host of characters.
There is a subtle emotional tug in this otherwise bleak story. It derives from a feeling that the novel reads like a eulogy of Robert's life. What McGregor seems keen to depict is the way a given life is lived. In doing so he strikes a masterful stroke in what is a short novel. His narration is compressed like a zip file but within the lines there is much to unpack and contemplate. In one passage McGregor uses an extended metaphor to indicate the progression of time - believe it or not, namely the wall papering of Robert's flat and how it deteriorated over time.
I detected a subtle bit of politics in this novel. McGregor's characters are down and out working class so their position is one, in the main, where the state imposes things upon them even in the case of dealing with Robert's death. At the start of chapter 3, as the we narrator gather in the mortuary the reader is told how they expect to wait for something to happen. We are told: "Waiting is one thing we're good at, as it happens. We've had a lot of practice. We've got the time. We've got all the time in the world."
Furthermore, another major political issue that emerges from this novel is that for these down and outs, in life and in death, the state takes more control of their lives than is normally the case. From one perspective, Robert's story is an anatomy of state involvement in his life. Folks like Robert would experience living in council flats on sink estates that compound their problems, attempted control by the criminal justice system, a dependency on government benefits and finally in death the dissection of the body by a branch of the NHS partly as an exercise in the training of pathologists.
As in his first to novels, it is clear that McGregor is a novelist who is prepared to experiment with his writing. The writing style in this novel mimics the character's life and social milieu. In one section paragraphs end with out full stops, sentences are littered with double negatives, and sometimes end with the conjunction "but", and question marks are sometimes quite simply dropped.
McGregor is one of the few British contemporary literary novelists writing with a commitment. Yet he manages to maintain a respectable distance from his story and characters. He also renders his story in a unique attractive style that is fast becoming a trade mark. One reviewer has raised the question: if Even the Dogs is this year's Man Booker winner. Well, I don't know but years on from now I could imagine the Nobel citation: He gives voice to the ordinary man and woman depicting them faithfully and with pathos in their social milieu thereby reminding the masses of the different social strata in society. I recommend this short but very good novel to readers.
How much you would enjoy this really depends on what you want from a novel. If you enjoy literary fiction, constructed almost as much as an art form as a story then this could appeal. The story, about the life and death of an alcoholic and his drug addicted,homeless associates, is delivered in a disjointed, stream of consciousness style, with unfinished sentences, unidentified narrators, verbal tics, and frequent swearing, all of which serve to capture and create the atmosphere of broken lives.
The writing is excellent, and does bring into focus the tragic lives and broken dreams which can lead to decline and life on the street and the consequences of such a life. This is done with empathy, and indeed respect for people as people, even on the very margins of society. It is this empathy for the marginalised and ruined lives of too many who have fallen out of society and cannot find a way back, which is the real strength of this book.
However, it is unremittingly grim throughout - there is not the slightest hint of a happy ending - and many of the scenes are graphic and horrible. I guess that is the point - as a reflection of destroyed lives, only lightened by the drugs which pull the characters down and down, it is excellent,but never enjoyable, reading.