Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review: Even the Dogs

This was a very difficult book to read. McGregor is raw, graphic, and unrelenting in his portrayal of the horrors of drug addiction. The story follows a group of heroin addicts in an unnamed English town. In the days following Christmas each of them dies from drug-related causes, and the book follows in particular the authorities' investigation of the death of one of them, a man named Robert, who lost all of the normalcy in his life, including his wife and daughter, as he fell into the arms of addiction. The story is narrated by the various characters, some during their lives, and others in death. They follow the investigation of Robert's death in all of its horrors. As the book unfolds we learn how Robert and his friends became drug addicts, and how each met their end. This book is nothing, if not hard-hitting. McGregor writes in the voice of drug addicts in a stream-of-consciousness style. The prose is sometimes difficult to get through: there's plenty of slang and jargon. Even more so, the book itself is hard to get through because it is so graphic and so tragic. Certainly McGregor captures the incessant search for drugs that defines the addict's life. Indeed, the book is itself is unrelenting in illustrating this, as the characters' lives have become entirely defined by the search for the next hit. For all that is remarkable about this book, I was left with little at the end aside from a sense of depression. Many of the finest works of literature are written about extreme human misery, but they leave the reader with larger lessons, things to consider, and that was missing here. At the end there was little left but sadness.

Jon McGregor, Even the Dogs (Bloomsbury, 2010) ISBN: 1596913487

Monday, February 1, 2010

Review: The Last Will of Moira Leahy

I should start by mentioning that this is quite a different book from the sorts I usually read. Normally I read mainstream literary fiction. This book is mostly mainstream literary fiction, but with a distinct twist. In writing style and character development this book certainly fits the bill, but Walsh adds distinct threads of the fantastic and supernatural as she weaves the story of Maeve Leahy and her departed twin, Moira. Maeve Leahy lost her twin at sixteen. Nine years later she finds herself drawn to an antique Javanese knife, a keris, which seems,s somehow, to embody her sister's spirit. After purchase of the keris at auction strange elements of the past reappear in Maeve's life. It's difficult to explain the progression of the plot or what is so different about it without giving away important parts of the story, except to say that Maeve travels to Rome to try and unlock the mystery of the keris, and there finds danger and surprise she hadn't anticipated. Walsh does an excellent job building suspense as Maeve travels to Rome in search of an expert who can explain the keris to her. She has written what is certainly a gripping mystery. The writing is good and the characters are well developed. I do, however, generally prefer more concrete explanations in my fiction, obviously other readers' mileage may vary depending on their tastes, and even for someone such as myself who doesn't generally venture into the realms of fantasy or supernatural, what Leahy has done seems well-done, at least to my untrained mind. What I did find difficult, or perhaps distracting, was that Maeve was never very believable as a foreign language professor. Her character appeared to have minimal research skills, and little ability to track down information or experts. Also, it's nearly impossible that a foreign language professor with an academic appointment could have never left the country, or have cloistered herself at home in the ways that Maeve apparently does-- research and conferences would have commanded that. I will fully admit this is a bit nick-picking, and likely will not affect the majority of readers, but if you live in what is Maeve's academic world, you'll likely find it implausible. I also disliked the discussion of Maeve's relationship with her friend/maybe-boyfriend Noel. I've read a number of books lately where the female protagonists treat their maybe-boyfriends poorly, and this seemed to fall into the same trap.

Therese Walsh, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Shaye Areheart, 2009) ISBN: 0307461572