Geez, this one packs a punch!!! You’ll get that feeling from the opening sentence, “They break down the door at the end of December and carry the body away”. From then on it is a high octane rollercoaster, in-your-face style of novel.
Back in 1994 I distinctly recall being energised, intimidated and at times shocked by James Kelman’s “How Late It Was How Late” with it’s opening sentence of “Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there’s something wrong; there’s something far far wrong; ye’re no a good man, ye’re just a no a good man.” That novel with its bleakness, its tale of alcoholism, living outside the law, just getting by and more is almost fairy-floss compared to Jon McGregor’s “Even the dogs”.
Here’s a tale of heroin addiction, alcoholism, self-abuse, frequent death, family breakdown, no self-esteem, homelessness and more all wrapped up in a stream of consciousness style tale of poor Robert who dies before sentence one. This is definitely a hard book to review when you have my “do not put in spoilers” methodology. But what I can reveal is the voice of the heroin addicted Danny in the early sections rings true, too true in some sections , as though the thoughts in his mind were racing onto the page:
Jesus though. A man like that. Didn’t look ill the last time Danny had seen him. But the others must have seen him after that, must have noticed something was wrong. Had to find them and ask them, had to make sense of all
Unfinished sentences, thoughts flashing back and forth, external (non revealed) narrators, a chorus or observers of scenes, are those other addicts having out of body experiences? Are they dead too? Who are they? We have autopsies described in detail, facts about collapsed arteries of users and the only remaining options left, realities of scraping enough coin together to get another bag and an array of other subjects that “polite society” would consider taboo – the easy approach is to turn our heads away from this underbelly? Well in this book you can’t, you are actually drawn further and further into the mire as the thoughts hook you into turning page after page. I do admit, this would be a real challenge for readers who like a straight narrative style, or “something light” to read.
But do not be dismayed by the froth and bubble of the language (and I did find it hard to find a quote that didn’t give too much away or used a word considered offensive by google search), do not be frightened by the “stream of consciousness” style that I have branded the novel above. This is a also a reflection on the worth of every human life, every human spirit, no matter how tarnished, an empathetic narration on the ties of family and friends and the basic human longing to belong to a society or group (however dysfunctional).
An amazing subject that has finally been tackled in a sympathetic manner, a wondrous result and a remarkable revelation. Mr McGregor I am in envy of your talent and I wish you well with the prize, unfortunately I can see your subject matter being a smidgin too controversial for a gong.
I know there will be hundreds of people who will disagree with me on this novel, but I simply ask that any detractors who would like to put forward a negative review please explain their personal exposure to heroin.
PS – For those who have read it, maybe you can explain to me, why is it not called “Even the bloody dogs”?