I was specifically interested in this book for a number of reasons: it's set in the UK (I used to live there); it's about "lives fallen through the cracks...and the havoc brought by drugs, distress and the disregard of the wider world" (quoted from the back cover), and I have worked directly with people living such lives in a social services & educational capacity; and, the book is getting rave reviews in the UK, and is being mentioned in the same sentence as the Man Booker Prize.
The book starts with the discovery of Robert's dead body in his flat. It continues with snippets of information about him, his friends, and how the authorities are dealing with his body.
I'm not actually finished reading the book. I'm about halfway through. I'm being totally honest here: it's hard to read. It's good, it's interesting, and it's very authentic - but it's hard to read. Due to the nature of my life (working full-time, 2 little kids, all the odds and ends that come with parenting and keeping a house habitable), I find it quite hard to have time to read. So I usually read before falling asleep in bed. And a book on these topics of drugs, and death, and poverty, with a narrative style that involves unfinished sentences, and dwelling on darkness - it's hard to read at that time of day.
However, I want to finish it. I want to know what happens. Because this one paragraph at the beginning, on page 4, has sucked me in:
"They don't see us, as we crowd and push around them. Of course they don't. How could they. But we're used to that. We've been used to that for a long time, even before. Before this."So who is the narrative voice in this book? I don't know yet. Is it Robert's friends, alive, but invisible to most people (as many homeless or impoverished people are)? Or is it a group of ghosts, of friends who have gone before? I want to know.
And it's true. I know from my limited experience working in a homeless shelter in Ottawa, and working to support people who are homeless or who have limited opportunities to access adult education in the UK. We don't see them. So I'm reading. To see them more clearly. To be reminded.
You can find this book at many bookstores, on shelves now. You can also meet Jon McGregor tonight at Ben McNally Books, in Toronto, at a book launch complete with reading and signing.
PS: the Torontoist has an interesting interview with the author here, too.