Top critical review
Fragments of a Wasted Life
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.