Even the Dogs is a fearless experiment which shows us in close-up detail the lives of a gathering of homeless addicts as they go about their daily forage for shelter, drink or a fix. In a masterpiece of narrative technique the viewpoint shifts and morphs through the lives of a handful of derelicts who stumble and fall, stumble and fall as they seek to redeem themselves from addiction, homelessness and those impulses which too often rise up within them and defeat their best interests.
Here we stand among them as they accompany a dead comrade on his final journey. With no voyeurism but with a compassionate eye, we are taken on a fragmented tour of purgatory; we journey through ramshackle flats and squats, ambulances and mortuaries, crematoria and courts: we hear their voices ranting and raving, their desperation and paranoia, their hankering after home and family; every broken sentence and fractured diatribe draws us closer to the elemental pressures of their lives.
There is something bracingly generous about Even the Dogs. It credits readers with a willingness to engage with an experiment which requires us to roll up our sleeves and take authorship of the book as we piece together the lives of its characters. It is an experiment which deflects attention away from the writer so that the reader gets to genuinely feel the characters anguish and rage at both themselves and the world; scene by scene the novel gradually unfolds in a way which draws our sympathies deeper into a clearer appreciation of their plight. In doing so it fills us with that complicit sense of trespass and intrusion which is the mark of the true work of art.
When all is said and done Even the Dogs is a compelling read. It fills the reader with a vivid sense of how the novel accommodates new techniques and idioms; in doing so it becomes thrilling in a way that is mysterious, frightening in a way that grapples us closer to the characters circumstances and finally, noble in its clear-eyed truth telling. With no hectoring or table thumping the author gets us to stand and listen. When we close the book we marvel that McGregor, in less than two hundred pages, has managed to sketch such a complete and complex picture of a world which is so near to hand but so seldom lingered over.
The greatest compliment we can pay the novel is that we will go back to read it again – to relive it, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its men and women and to bear witness to their trials and sufferings.
Judges: Elizabeth Nunez, Mike McCormack, Tim Parks, Evelyn Schlag, Dubravka Ugresic and non-voting chairperson: Judge Eugene Sullivan