Sunday 5 February 2012

Even the dogs

I so much enjoyed 'So many ways to begin' that when I was browsing for an audiobook (to accompany the knitting) I picked up 'Even the Dogs' by Jon McGregor without hesitation, and I spent yesterday listening to it.
(Friday lunchtime I miss-stepped on someone's path and turned my ankle. After hobbling around the rest of my duty and cycling the two miles back to the office I took an executive decision not to go to work on Saturday.)

Here is another book I might not have stuck with if I had read it but the voice reading gave it something that really drew me in. It begins with the description of a dead body in a neglected flat, but the narrator is using 'we', as if there is a whole group of them watching what is happening. The 'we' became important as you follow the story because it really is about a group of people bound together by necessity. It was a slightly shocking diversion from his other books as it takes you down into the world of drug addiction. A couple of times I thought there was something wrong with the CD, then I realised that the sentences that ended abruptly without finishing was deliberate, a trailing off of thoughts, as if it didn't really matter or the narrator forgot what he was saying. In fact that happened a lot, ideas drifting one into another, things only half said. So the story moved backwards and forwards, recounting, from various perspectives, the lives of a group of drug addicts who gather in this flat, belonging to Robert, the dead guy. As we see their history, both ancient and recent, we get a picture of a complex relationship of interdependence and unreliability.

Like the Rachel DuPree book it is not a world that the author is familiar with and so is based on extensive research (he talks about it here in an interview with DGR). I found it convincing because it neither glamourises nor moralises about the life of the protagonists. It does not make excuses or explanations, it just describes what is. And it is thoroughly depressing. It reminded me of Trainspotting. And should be recommended reading for teenagers. Because it is so depressing. I have found this same thing in other references to addiction in novels, that the addict does not strictly have a personality, the addiction takes over their personality, it becomes so all consuming and dominating that there is nothing else left in their life. They have different backgrounds, influences and experiences but all those become submerged under the addiction. This is the story that the book tells. It is the story of what it means to be an addict. It became most vivid when describing two of them begging; their need is so intense that one is repeatedly counting the money so that the very instant they have enough cash to score they up and leave. It describes them waiting by the phone box for their delivery, always having to wait longer than they can bear, but how they must bear it anyway. The desperation and the intensity are both very vivid. The other passage I found most engaging was the description of the heroine being processed in Afghanistan and then the long and torturous journey it takes to the streets of Britain. Sometimes my mind is boggled by the waste of human ingenuity. As one part of the story describes what happens to Robert's body we also watch what becomes of the other members of the group. There are a lot of conflicting emotions, the desire for real human contact but so often a rejection and scorn for anyone trying to help them. They are people who only cooperate when they will gain something, people who trust no one and are utterly untrustworthy, people with a peculiar sense of loyalty but who abandon others in need when there are better offers. I found the contempt for other human beings quite gut wrenching at times, sometimes you can be glad that you can't really see the contents of other people's thoughts.

A world I know nothing of, and am so grateful for the ignorance. Don't risk this book if the word fuck offends, it is most liberally scattered throughout. A really powerful book, and exquisitely written, never puts a foot wrong, the voices all feel genuine and believable.


  1. There is something about Jon's writing that lingers in the mind long after the book is closed. He never creates a cozy world and yet there is beauty in the prose. Even when the subject is human ugliness.

    Odd as he is very self effacing (his son is at the school where I teach) and most people would have no idea he had just passed them.

    I too was glad that I stuck with it, although much prefer If nobody speaks...

    If you get chance have a go at his Nottingham colleague: Stefan Collishaw's The Last Girl.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, I will seek it out.


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