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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 October 2010
Jon McGregor's books are never an easy read, but they are worth the effort. If the reader is willing to go with the flow of the stream of consciousness, not need to know exactly where they are or who is narrating, their persistence will eventually pay off, everything will fall into place and the sheer scope of what the book has achieved is likely to have an impact that is profound and unforgettable. That at least was the case with the author's first two books - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and So Many Ways to Begin. Even the Dogs however is a different case altogether.

Another reason why Jon McGregor's books can be difficult to read is their choice of subject matter. It's often about ordinary people, living hard, grim lives, caught up in their own problems, that the author is able to redeem through some exquisite poetic observations, enlightening the subject through a few fleeting moments of remarkable insight into the connections between people and their pasts. The subject matter of Even the Dogs is perhaps even more grim than previous books, dealing with the lives of down-and-outs, sleeping rough and doing drugs to temporarily lift them out of their miserable existence, forging connections and friendships that are somewhat different from ones we would be familiar with. And then, in the bleak period between Christmas and New Year, there's a death that has an impact on a small group of them.

McGregor's deeply involving writing does nonetheless manage to find some beauty and poetry in this subject. A junkie preparing the vein on a companion for injection is compared to a soldier tenderly giving water from a flask to a dying companion, and there is a fine connection established between Ant, a former soldier in Afghanistan with a morphine addiction on account of injuries sustained in the war there now hooked on heroin, and the harvesting and transportation of heroin from the same part of the world. The writing is such that it also draws the reader fully into the limited horizons of such an existence, while at the same time expanding it out into the nature of the world that it takes place in.

McGregor is certainly one of the best writers in the UK, and the writing in Even the Dogs remains strong, with some superb observations, but this time around it all feels too much like a literary exercise, reminiscent of William Faulkner, the tone and treatment not that far removed from As I Lay Dying. Many would say McGregor's previous works have been literary exercises, but in this case it feels less original, uninspired and fails to touch on the human aspects of his characters - or perhaps the humanity in his subjects is just too deeply buried this time around.
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on 23 February 2011
I just finished reading this short novel after only a few days. It is quite a breathtaking experience and you are left gasping and speechless for a while. My first reaction is almost to re-read it. The writing style is different to most current novels and after a few pages you become immersed and involved in the grim, surreal world of the homeless and the addicted. McGregor is an author of impressive skill. He has the courage to place the story in a fairly unpalatable place and time. He uses a documentary narrative technique which is pacy, real and empathetic. " Even the dogs" perfectly displays how the novel style can be manipulated and forced forward into the modern world. Here is a writer to watch out for and to respect.
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on 12 March 2010
This novel is written in a very unusual style, narrated in the first person plural, by an ethereal group and follows the death of Robert, who through his sheer physical bulk and agoraphobic possession of his flat provided a centre for their lives.

This almost spiritual tone starkly contrasts with the abused, addicted and despairing lives which the group of friends lead on the streets of an unnamed Midlands city.

After the first couple of pages one rapidly adapts to the style and it proves very easy to read.

The narrative at the heart of the book is a journey of this massed consciousness following and watching Robert's body every step of the way, from being discovered to his funeral.

It's an extremely ambitious novel as it opens outwards through space and time from the confines of the flat to the conflict in the Falklands, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and in a memorable passage then travels back to the grim estates where the book is mostly set.

Although it would be difficult for anyone who is actually likely to read this book to judge how realistic the depiction is of addiction and hopelessness which leads to homelessness the tone of the book seems right. It captures perfectly the strange, symbiotic relationship in our society between the `professionals', doctors, policemen, social workers, key workers, benefit agency people, who look after these people and the damaged addicts who have to learn to play the system to survive.

Even the dogs is relatively short and easy to read, yet manages to encompass the most profound themes of humanity and is one of the best books I have read for a long time.
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on 6 April 2013
The title of this novel refers to a war zone in Bosnia where the devastation has been so complete that even the dogs are dead.
The story focuses on the death of an alcoholic and the lives of a group of drug addicts who congregated in his flat when he was alive. In this story Jon McGregor shows the humanity of those who some might consider to be the dregs of society. He describes their progression to addiction and shows them as real human beings with need for human contact and touch. The book spends a fair bit of time building this up to the extent that the pace feels a bit slow in the middle. However, it is worth persevering as the story does develop and McGregor then turns the build up of compassion for this group of characters on its head and ultimately shows their inhumanity.
For this is a group of people who ultimately lack real caring and feeling for each other. Despite the rhetoric of the ghostly narrators demanding an appropriate acknowledgement of the dead man and his life it transpires that in life they let him down. In every instance where it counts they act with carelessness and casual cruelty because 'scoring' always comes first before care for anyone. Even the dogs who they use as companions are sacrificed to their need for drugs. They, like the man who died are neglected. And as the dead man's dog is left to starve so a similar fate awaits the other dogs at the end so that it is not just in Bosnia that even the dogs are dead.
The book is moving and thought provoking but I have only rated it as 4 because it does get slow and repetitive in the middle and the style is a bit irritating. He leaves sentences unfinished which is I presume supposed to give the impression of a stream of consciousness but it is over done and feels contrived. I guess it is meant to be an uncomfortable read but this book lacks the beauty of his prose in previous novels.
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on 26 October 2012
Jon Mcgregor's even the dogs is a bleak novel detailing the story behind the death of a man in his early 50s. We begin with the discovery of his body in his squalid flat and Mcgregor immediately gains the interest of the reader through a sharp and clinical account of this discovery, the facts laid bare for the reader in their misery.
The story moves on to tell the tale of various different characters both tenuiously and at the same time powerfully linked together by the overwhelming power of their addictions. The narration challenges the reader throughout to question its motives - be it Danny's rambling, almost incoherent weavings perfectly portraying his desperate quest for drugs through to his depiction of Ant's time in Afghanistan, a passage almost devoid of punctuation which helps us picture him in a state of semi consciousness being airlifted home. The parrellel journey of the poppy through its transition into the drug they seek adds a sense of foreboding here and ultimate poignancy, the pure poppy, to destroyed and destroyer, much like the transition of many of the characters in the book.
The book essentially portrays a group of lost souls who live outside of the realms of society, an idea aided by the narrative style of spectators who offer their own perspective on events we are witnessing, not visible or interacting with the rest of life.
The destructive power of addiction is effectively highlighted through this novel as each character ultimately ends up alone. But it's saving grace is the hope attached to Laura, that she might transcend the desolation and this prevents the novel from sinking into complete nihilism. To say I enjoyed this book would be too weak or misplaced but it certainly a book that I admire greatly in both it's clever narrative style and it's empathy dealing with a difficult and hopeless world.
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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2010
This is a stunning book. It is not an easy read, by any means, because of the subject matter alone. The writing is disjointed and chaotic at times, but this mirrors the events that take shape throughout the story. I can understand why some readers would find this off putting, but I found it totally in keeping.

It begins with the demise of Robert in a squalid flat. His obese and alcohol ridden body has been there for nearly a week. The narrative belongs to his "friends" who are "watching" the recovery of his body, the journey to the mortuary and a subsequent post mortem. They also keep vigil as his body is transported to the funeral home and is subsequently cremated. Throughout, we are given snippets of how Robert's life used to be and how he descended into alcohol addiction,agorophobia and hopelessness. Where were these friends when Robert died alone? Why was his body not found sooner? These "friends"were the ones who brought him food and alcohol every day in return for a place to doss down and feed their habit. Sounds pretty depressing and it certainly is, but that doesn't mean it is any less realistic. This scene is played out every day throughout the world, where people living on the fringes of society, live from one fix or score to another. Jon McGregor has given these people a voice and it is down to us whether we want to listen and comprehend. Are we disgusted by the behaviour of Robert and his addict companions or do we feel compassion for the situations they are in?

Robert Radcliffe's story will stay with me for a long time and, if nothing else, I will try to remember that addicts are still someone's son or daughter and it may well be the way the world has treated them which led them to exist as they do
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on 25 February 2010
I found this a surprising and thought provoking book. The author has chosen an unusual point of view - that of the dead man's dead friends. The dialogue style is equally arresting. Initially I thought that the disjointed, unfinished sentences would be both unsustainable and unreadable but it was curiously compelling and helped draw me into the world of the addict. The book was clearly well researched and the world and its detail well drawn. I actually bought the book after reading a piece by the author in the Guardian Weekend magazine about the office of Coroner.
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on 7 March 2011
If you've read and liked Jon McGregor's other two novels you won't need much encouragement to read this one which I think is his best yet - as if it is this book he has been building up to. It should be a bleak book - he's writing about substance abuse and homelessness - but the very action of detailing his characters lives in the amazing way that he does, honours their humanity and shows that their lives are precious. His characters long to be touched and held, and so we are challenged to think of them as people we might touch and hold. The book is narrated by initially mysterious observers, whose identities gradually become apparent. Their focus is on Robert, who has died, and despite his lifestyle and failures, they clearly love him and long for his worth to be recognised and for him to be given dignity and respect in death. The Metro review quoted inside the front cover calls it 'rhythmically sculpted prose that combines documentary precision with expressionist lament' - perfect description. A beautiful book.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 February 2011
I loved 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' and was really looking forward to reading this latest novel of Jon McGregor's. I was so bitterly disappointed. I should have been warned by the description of the novel as 'intimate'. This is blurb-speak for tedious and bogged down in detail. There are some readers who will love this, but for me I couldn't bear the claustrophobia of the prose.

I found it deadly dull and the subject matter - the miserable existence of homeless drug addicts - it hardly cheering. I may have just about been able to bear the tedium and bleakness but to make matters worse McGregor throws in irritating narrative 'quirks' - such as regular incomplete sentences and the insertion of the word 'la' whenever he is too lazy to articulate and wants to sound 'authentic'.

In 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' McGregor made a virtue of beautifully written and observed minutae. Sadly, he hasn't managed to pull it off this time.
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on 24 October 2012
This is an excellent and easily-read novel concerning a motley crew of down-and-outs in an English town, the 'invisibles' of society, the principle aim of their shrunken lives being to get the next 'fix'. Unlike some reviewers I did not have any problem distinguishing the individual voices and personalities (I could not say the same for Nicola Barker's 'Wide Open' which also featured some down-and-outs and also incidentally won the Dublin IMPAC award). The short trailed-off paragraphs of Danny's narratives was an appropriate device I felt for a drug-damaged mind and worked very well. The deadened existences of all the characters with their scraps of memories, and the descriptions of the social services etc I felt were vividly illuminated. A short, empathetic, and masterful novel.
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