21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Another very good novel from a new major writer,
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This review is from: Even the Dogs (Hardcover)
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.