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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As I Lay Dying, 12 Oct 2010
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This review is from: Even the Dogs (Hardcover)
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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Initial post: 26 Nov 2010 08:38:13 GMT
Norrin_Radd says:
Good review - I remember reading "If Nobody....' a few years back and the stream of consciousness, first person present progressive style drove me nuts. The Telegraph are pushing Even the Dogs as one of their Christmas reads today, and the write up is so good, I was almost tempted to get a copy. Your review has brought me back to earth a little, and from the excerpt in the item description here, it's still the same old tense/style that grates me. Think I'll give this one a miss.
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