One of my favourite books of last year was Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor, and a recent holiday gave me the opportunity to read one of McGregor’s older novels. Originally published in 2010, Even The Dogs is a relatively short but powerful novel which explores the fragility of human life.
The novel begins on a freezing cold day as a year comes to a close, with the discovery of a man’s body as it is carried away from the debris of his ruined flat. This man is named Robert, and over the course of this novel we learn more of his life, from the highs to the lows, and the events that led to his neglect. Robert’s story is certainly a bleak one, but he is not the only one, and there are other stories to uncover along the way from those who have fallen through the cracks of society. We meet people who live on the outside of society, people with struggles which impact the way they are viewed by others, as their stories are not easy to hear. This is a world we are aware of, but one which many are reluctant to approach. Their stories are told in a more unusual format, with shifting points of view and a disjointed, almost stream of consciousness style of writing. As a result I did struggle a little to get into this at times, but this is more to do with my personal reading preferences, as the style of writing worked well with the type of story McGregor is trying to tell, with the perspectives of people who are lost, and struggling to find their way.
Despite the unusual narrative style, at just short of 200 pages this was a book I managed to read in only a couple of sittings. This was a powerful, moving story which dealt with some difficult subject matter, as it examines the life of those who exist beyond humanity’s comfort zone. It deals with those who have become lost, those who suffer from mental illness, and those who find themselves addicted. It was a thought provoking read, which left me pondering how we treat those who are vulnerable in society. And whilst this book offers an unflinching portrayal of these lives, there are also moments of tenderness, as we see those little interactions which may seem relatively insignificant, yet are so important to those who are suffering. As the story progresses, and the inquiry into Robert’s death approaches, we continue to learn more about him and his final moments as his neglected body is cared for after death. Along the way there are vivid descriptions of this post mortem process which were interesting although I did struggle a little as I am quite squeamish! But whilst this was sometimes a difficult book to read, it is one that carries an important message.
I had heard good things about Even The Dogs, but prior to reading I wasn’t really sure what to expect. What I found within the pages of this novel was a harrowing story of a darker side of human existence. Whilst is may not have been an easy read in parts, it was a moving story told with empathy, an important read.