British novelist McGregor (So Many Ways to Begin, 2007, etc.) takes a bleak look at some drug addicts.
Robert’s decomposing body has been found by the cops in his apartment in an unidentified English city. In this plotless novel, the ramifications of his death serve as a focal point. The middle-aged alcoholic slob loved company. The deal was that druggies could hang out and shoot up at his place if they kept him supplied with food and drink; Robert was not himself a user. The puzzle is why his body was left to rot. Where had the addicts gone? The author eventually provides a grisly explanation, but his main purpose is a portrait of Robert’s ruined peers. Heroin is their drug of choice, but they’ll settle for anything else in its absence: “Full-time job just keeping the rattles off.” We get to know Danny best. Well-meaning but feckless, he discovered Robert’s corpse but failed to call the cops. First he had to score, then find Laura, Robert’s grown daughter. Hers may be the saddest story. Her mom left Robert when Laura was seven. She had two unsuccessful reunions with her father and became an addict herself, scabbed and scarred and filthy like the rest of them, clinging to pipedreams of rehab. There is power in McGregor’s description of this desperate subculture, but the repetition becomes numbing. There’s nothing new about portrayals of the heroin scene, and a habit does not necessarily make for interesting characters. These junkies are just plain dull, as is Robert. An invisible Greek chorus of addicts follows his autopsy and inquest; homicide is ruled out. The bureaucratic efficiency of these proceedings contrasts sharply with the helter-skelter drug world, but Robert’s lonely cremation yields only a so-what shrug.
A few experimental touches don’t compensate for the lack of a compelling narrative.