Even the Dogs
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.
On a cold, quiet day between Christmas and the New Year, a man’s body is found in an abandoned apartment. His friends look on, but they’re dead, too. Their bodies found in squats and sheds and alleyways across the city. Victims of a bad batch of heroin, they’re in the shadows, a chorus keeping vigil as the hours pass, paying their own particular homage as their friend’s body is taken away, examined, investigated, and cremated.
All of their stories are laid out piece by broken piece through a series of fractured narratives. We meet Robert, the deceased, the only alcoholic in a sprawling group of junkies; Danny, just back from uncomfortable holidays with family, who discovers the body and futilely searches for his other friends to share the news of Robert’s death; Laura, Robert’s daughter, who stumbles into the junkie’s life when she moves in with her father after years apart; Heather, who has her own place for the first time since she was a teenager; Mike, the Falklands War vet; and all the others.
Theirs are stories of lives fallen through the cracks, hopes flaring and dying, love overwhelmed by a stronger need, and the havoc wrought by drugs, distress, and the disregard of the wider world. These invisible people live in a parallel reality, out of reach of basic creature comforts, like food and shelter. In their sudden deaths, it becomes clear, they are treated with more respect than they ever were in their short lives.
Intense, exhilarating, and shot through with hope and fury, Even the Dogs is an intimate exploration of life at the edges of society–littered with love, loss, despair, and a half-glimpse of redemption.
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
Heartfelt and artistically impressive exploration of human existence on the fringes of life – where hope sparkles beyond hope and humanity survives in spite of inhuman conditions