The narrating voice belongs to a ‘we’; ‘we’ huddle in a doorway and see people come and go...Perhaps it makes no difference if "we" are ghosts or hallucinations, living or dead: the kinds of people that McGregor is making speak are only very intermittently visible to inhabitants of the regular world either way … In five long sections, each structured around a stage in the corpse's journey to the coroner and cremation, McGregor assembles a fragmentary group portrait of these figures. The reader is shown what happens when higher-grade heroin arrives in the city after a drug drought, and most of the circumstances that led to Robert's death. There are flashes of bitter humour, usually concerning the authorities). But in general the tone is unrelentingly grim, though not in a hectoring way: you're simply immersed in the protocols of homelessness and addiction.
As a novel about the consequences of addiction — particularly heroin addiction — Even the Dogs is harrowing. It details the physical, psychological, social and environmental damage, and portrays the all-consuming nature of the life … But McGregor’s devotion to craft comes at a significant cost to a reader’s emotional engagement with his characters and story. His technique intrudes, becomes showy...The result of all the literary pyrotechnics, and the way they call attention to the writing itself, is that scenes that should be unbearably emotional — as when Robert is visited by his teenage daughter for the first time in many years and she sees the squalor of his life — fall flat, because we have no visceral connection with the characters. The author has imagined a story filled with vital, gripping material, but he is too busy claiming our attention to let us lose ourselves in it.
...ambitious, haunting, flawed, and extremely depressing … The language, with its Faulknerian interior monologues, is predominantly idiomatic and fractured, rife with slang and expletives. But there are moments of beautiful writing … The emphasis, however, is on the bleak present of the junkies’ lives, where helping a fellow addict find the only usable vein in a ruined body constitutes one of the few acts of love … Even the Dogs is a thought-provoking, but not an enjoyable, read. Unless you have a strong stomach and an abiding interest in the lives of hard-core addicts, I’d recommend giving this one a miss.
In Jon McGregor’s new book, a death is our entrée into the lives of people whose paths have intersected with that of the dead man, Robert. They are the ghosts of society — drinkers and drug-users, the underdogs and their dogs — a sub-class whose members exist from fix to fix … Even the Dogs directs an unblinking and non-judgmental eye on to street people, homeless and hopeless. It’s a novel as chilling and bracing as the ‘wind-cold empty day’ on which it opens, McGregor finding poetry in the profane and nobility in the struggles of lost souls trying to keep their heads above water.
Robert's death sets in motion the novel's events—it would be misleading to call it a plot—starting with the police taking away his body … The central mystery—how did Robert die?—goes nowhere, and the spliced-in set pieces that describe the stages Robert's body undergoes on its way to eventual cremation don't do any favors for this misfire.