Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

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Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Gritty, disturbing plunge into the lives of heroin addicts.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408809471

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I loved Jon McGregor's previous two novels, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and So Many Ways to Begin. They're both lyrical, poetically observed works so I was really looking forward to reading his latest book. It is, unfortunately, quite a different sort of story...

It's hard to precis what happens exactly, but basically a man is found dead in his flat between Christmas and New Year, and the book slowly pieces together what happened thanks to a chorus of narrating voices (who are apparently also dead) as well as some stream-of-consciousness style pieces from other characters. There's a flavour of 'whodunnit' since we don't know what happened to the dead man, if he was murdered by one of the many people we see enter his house before the police arrive, or if he died from natural causes, but mostly this book spends a lot of time trying very hard to be, well, shocking and clever.

McGregor's previous books were, as I said before, beautifully written; delicately imagined and written with a wonderful, lyrical voice. Here he spends most of the book trying to replicate the speech patterns of junkies, although this mostly consists of their speech being interspersed with 'what' mid-sentence as they search for the right word or a phrase. Trick number two is that sentences are left unfinished, without any punctuation even, and are followed by a leap into a new paragraph and a new train of thought. I appreciate that this is a technique he's using to deliberately create confusion, emulating a drug addict's disjointed ramblings, however it does become exhausting to read and, actually, I didn't think it always worked or sounded realistic.

There were moments I liked, patches of story that flowed and were coherent. Towards the end, as certain strands of story begin to be resolved it became easier to read and follow, although there were still things I thought were left unfinished. Occasional sentences hinted at McGregor's usual writing standards and the last quarter of the book went much more quickly. I did find it a struggle to read, however, and had I not been reviewing it I probably would have given up about a third of the way in. I didn't really like the strange 'seeing-all' chorus. It was never made clear who formed the 'chorus', what they were doing there or why, although this could just be down to my own personal taste as a reader.

I'm sure that some readers will want to know that the book is loaded with quite strong swearing, and there are some rather disgusting body decomposition/drug-related moments for the more queasy among us. It's certainly gritty, dark, and pessimistic, and provides an interesting, disturbing portrayal of drug and alcohol addiction. You're left in no doubt as to the detrimental affects of shooting heroin, the complete control it exerts on your life and the degradation it causes. There are splashes of social commentary thrown in too, via the character's speaking about their lives and their experiences in the army that I thought were interesting. If you like to try unusual literary fiction, and you enjoy reading something different and experimental then this is worth a read. However, it does take effort, and is certainly not an easy book for bedtime.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For a real-life look at drug addiction try The Night of the Gun by David Carr, or for a look at the science behind our search for pleasure this makes an interesting read Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure by Paul Martin.

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Buy Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor at Amazon.com.


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Nathan Vyrum said:

It is irritating, sickening, shocking, difficult, relentless , depressing ...... and quite brilliant.

It is the best example of the “stream of consciousness “ style of writing I have read since James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.