Even the dogs has been on my TBR pile for a while, so I recommended it for the book club I go to. Unfortunately I actually can’t make it to the next book club meeting (poor planning, Woodsie!) so thought I’d blog my thoughts here instead!
I’d picked it up because I’d read Jon McGregor’s first book, If nobody speaks of remarkable things a few years ago and was absolutely blown away by it. I was tremendously impressed by McGregor’s lyrical writing style, so wanted to see what else he’d come up with.
This book tells the stories of a group of mostly homeless drug addicts, using the death of one of their group as the jumping-off point to exploring their lives. If that sounds a bit grim, well, it is. I really wasn’t expecting the book to be quite as depressing as this – and it is relentlessly so.
The writing is absolutely beautiful, as it was with McGregor’s earlier book, and I loved the way it was structured. It’s written mostly in stream-of-consciousness, the narrative looping and repeating itself, exploring different characters a bit further each time. It’s fragmented, with whole chapters featuring sentences that run into each other without ever completing. That style of writing is incredibly difficult to pull off, and I’ve given up on books by less talented authors because that kind of fragmented writing got too difficult to follow or just annoyed me too much. It is testament to McGregor’s skill as a writer that I was absolutely gripped throughout the entire book. The style never felt laboured or gimmicky: it suited the subject and the characters.
However, despite the beautiful writing, I couldn’t say I really enjoyed this book. I don’t mind depressing books, but this was just so relentless. There’s nothing redeeming or hopeful in it at all. I get that it’s dealing with a difficult topic, and I know the lives of homeless heroin addicts must be pretty desperate, but this really felt like it was labouring the point. It felt like the writer had taken every possible worst-case scenario and inflicted them on his characters. I think the whole “no hope whatsoever” thing was pretty deliberate, in fact it’s rather underlined in the text towards the end of the book:
Did you think there would be answers. Did you think there would be reasons given…Come looking for reasons if you want but there’s nothing to it. This was always going to happen some time and it don’t mean nothing now.
I get the point McGregor is trying to make – that the characters he is writing about don’t really see any hope or any way out, and there’s no grand lesson to be learned from what happens to them. I’m just not sure it was a point that needed to be made. Ultimately, I don’t feel like I really got anything out of reading this book. I think the mark of a good book is one that leaves me feeling like I’ve learned something, or made me look at the world a different way. As much as I loved the writing, I don’t really feel either of those things from this book.
Verdict: 8/10 for the writing, 6/10 for the story