There are some spoilers in this review but hardly more than revealed in the blurb on the cover.
Some of the reviews of even the dogs criticise the unusual style, the frequent shifts in point of view, the sentences which peter out in mid stride and the mixed-up chronology but in my opinion, Jon McGregor has chosen the most fitting way to tell this story. From the title to the last line, it is all perfect.
The title, itself a fragment, refers to a comment by a soldier in Bosnia who, when asked for directions to a particular town, replies that there’s no point in going there as even the dogs in that place have been killed.
So why is this comment about annihilation in Bosnia relevant to the action of this book which mainly takes place in a provincial English city?
The principal character is called Robert Radcliffe and the author might well have called the book Robert Radcliffe's Life but then, even the dogs in the street would have had a better life than Robert Radcliffe. Or he might have called it Robert's Last Days, but then even the dogs would have had better. Or the title could have been Robert's Wake but then, even the dogs
So you’re beginning to get the picture. The world of this slim novel is a violent and tragic place and people’s lives sometimes come to an abrupt
But, you might ask, why would we want to read about people whose lives are so wretched and doomed?
Jon McGregor tells the story in an original and creative way: the events are recounted by a group of invisible narrators who have the ability to be in the past and the present and in more than one place at the same time.
Crazy but genius.
The many shifts in point of view from the group narration, the ‘we’, who begin the story, to the individual viewpoints of various members of the ‘we’, are perfectly handled. The ‘we’ slides subtly to ‘he’ or ‘she’ but we hear it as ‘I’.
There is a cinematographic quality to the writing which makes it seem like we are watching a documentary: details stand out; sounds, even smells, are vivid, but nothing is over dramatised.
There are amazing touches of irony: Robert, an unemployed alcoholic, completely unknown and undocumented by the authorities gets examined, handled, touched, washed and cared for after he is dead. In life, he was surrounded by decay. In death, he is sanitised.
Ant, a British soldier in Afghanistan, witnesses the harvesting of opium while waiting to be airlifted home after losing his leg in a bomb blast. This hero will end his life as a crippled heroin addict on the margins of society in the company of another damaged ex-soldier, a survivor of the Falklands war, who was also in Bosnia.
Robert, likewise an ex-soldier, dies alone on Christmas Day.
When I started this book, I had been reading The Opium-Eater, a life of Thomas De Quincey.
Would say this latest work on the stream of consciousness is, like every other works from the same genre, hard to comprehend. The story begins with the discovery of the dead body of Robert, a filthy fat bloke as well as a serious alcoholic. Then the narration, like voices coming out of nowhere, continue to unfold things about him. Big ones and petty ones. Like his drug addicted buddies, including his daughter, who left him with her mum since she was 7. Like how Danny, who was the first discovered his body, panic to find people for help. And of course, and probably the most fascinating part, was on how these drug addicts went postal when starved and elated when 'scored'. Then upon piecing every information together, the truth started to surface. You would miserably find out, the reason of his death, and how that was inevitable and predictable....Continua