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Submitted Literature

Even The Dogs

By John Mcgregor

Review

The latest of three novels by Nottingham-based Jon Mcgregor presents a stark but humane story that circles around alcoholic Robert Radcliffe who is found dead in his flat. The novel introduces a range of characters tied together by a desperate need to score and showing a resilience and determination to find refuge in chemicals. The story is dark yet the collection of broken individuals are given a curious decency, a spare transcendence despite their reduced and sometimes violent lives.

Mcgregor carefully and lyrically unfolds the trajectories of the rag tag group of addicts as they gravitate to Robert's flat with its 'open door'policy. What is particularly brilliant about this novel is Mcgregor's use of fragments or unfinished sentences and minimal punctuation which deliver coherence and incoherence in a way that points to or metaphorically indicates the broader dislocations of a life in and from drugs. As we witness the intense half-life of people in what could be urban Nottingham but also urban nowhere, we are left to ponder the tragic losses that attend drugs. We also gain a less-judgmental vision of people trying to stand up as they are falling down - trying to have something from life as it is slipping away.

Despite the whole ghastly world of drugs, Mcgregor draws attention to the fragile attempts of addicts to connect, to create community, to find some peace in their lives. The novel also, in flashes, reveals both sides of professional help, from the rather clunky work of support groups and counsellors to the near-religious interventions of the chiropodist or the day centre's provision of a Christmas dinner with 'proper' horseradish sauce. But what stays in the reader's mind as an after-burn is the rich characterisation on offer in the novel - not least Danny and his disabled dog Einstein - and the blighted relationship between Robert and his addict daughter, Laura.

 

REVIEW WRITTEN AND SUBMITTED BY PROFESSOR PAUL CRAWFORD

Key Themes:

  • Addiction

Significant Quotes / Pages

'Down by the canal and the sickness rising in him, the rattles taking hold. Cramps in the stomach, aching in his legs his back his bones. Pulling down his trousers behind a bush because he can't keep it from rushing out, black and steaming on the frozen ground and nothing to clean himself with, nothing to do but pull up his trousers and try to do something about it later. When he gets the chance, when he's scored and sorted and feeling able to face it. Sweating and cold and feeling it badly now and where's Mike when you need him. Can't get rid of the cunt most days and now he's' (39)

'Fucking, every day like this, trying to keep our heads above the water. Or more like trying to keep our heads above like boiling tar or something and some cunt always trying to push us back under the' (43)

'She looked at him, her mouth scabbed and cracked, her bitten fingers pulling at her greasy hair, and she went Danny believe this time it'll be different, this time I'm going through with it all. Which made him laugh because she'd asked him to believe that before, just about everyone he knew had asked him to believe that before. Spent his life being asked to believe things that turned out to be bollocks' (44-5)

'Like no one's here to judge or offer advice or comment. All that. We're just here to listen and share so who'd like to get us started. Jesus but. Everyone sitting around going I can't help it I take smack because my old man used to hit me or my cousin raped me or they took all my fucking kids away. Whatever they call them. Encounter groups, therapy groups, support groups. Whatever. And no one ever says I take smack because I fucking like it and its keeps me well and it keeps me fucking quiet. Don't criticise. Don't interrupt each other. Nothing gets repeated outside these walls. Things you have to sit through sometimes. When you're just after a script or a sub or some signature you need for something or other. Let's just go through this form together shall we. Let's identify your needs and your goals and when we're done I can let you have a bed for the night. Let's talk about your risk behaviours before we start thinking about your treatment shall we. Shall we indeed. Shall we bollocks like there's a choice.' (66-7)

'Things like then she washed and dried his feet, and cut his toenails, and rubbed away the hardened lumps of skin with a pumice stone before giving him a new pair of socks and asking him to send the next one in. Most people going out of their way not to touch yu all day, to not hardly brush up against you or even catch your eye or anything. And then that. Washing and drying and holding his feet, one in each hand. Things like that stick with you, on the whole. Could sit and wait all day for a thing like that.' (72)

'Same with having a dig. When someone else does it, and even the most cack-handed old smackhead does it slow and tender and gentle like. Like a gift. Like rubbing at your skin till the vein comes up, easing the needle in, slowly pushing home the gear. Like in a war film when someone lifts a drink to the lips of a wounded and dying soldier, cradling his head in one hand and letting the cold water trickle into the desperate mouth. Wait all day for that. Can't wait another minute.' (73)

'Didn't have to wait long to find out what all the fuss was about. Like being wrapped up warmer and warmer and warmer. Like being cocooned in blankets and silk. Like more than any of these things. Like being held.' (114)

'All those years thinking about him, and once she was back there she found it hard to think of him as her dad at all. He didn't even look much like that photo, by the time she got to him. The Robert she met - fat with drink and sorrow, unwashed, with a crushed face and a sunken posture, each hand punched into an arthritic curl - was the man her mother had warned her about, the man she'd always been told they left. The man Robert had only really become once they'd closed that door behind them and he'd started drinking seriously. Once he'd given up expecting them to ever come home. She'd imagined hugging him when she came back. Sitting on his lap, resting her head on his shoulder. Making up for everything they'd lost. Which had sort of happened, once, soon after the second time she came back, putting her arms around him and clinging on desperately until the smell of his long-worn clothes had pushed her away. After that, she'd only ever touched him when she wanted money.' (142-3)

Reference: John, Mcgregor. 2010. Even The Dogs. Bloomsbury, 2010

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 30th March 2010