Thursday, 1 March 2012

Touching the leper


The following is a quote from Jon McGregor's third novel, "Even the dogs..."

Sorry if any of the language offends, but I thought this was a subtle but deliberate (in the context of the novel) allusion to Christ touching the untouchables.  Of course, I might be reading too much into it, but from the title onwards, there are touches in there that seem to allude to the Bible.

The context here is of a homeless man who is addicted to drugs, getting his feet looked at. 

"Sat and waited and when it was his turn he took off his boots and socks and stretched out his feet for her.  One thing the army taught him was how to look after his feet, and he always made sure he had a pair of dry socks to be going on with, always aired his boots at night if he could.  Some things, when you've been doing them every day for years, you get stuck with them no matter how drunk you are. 

Nothing wrong with these feet, the chiropodist told him, cupping one in each hand and running her thumbs along the tendons and joints.  You must be doing something right, she said, smiling.

Didn't forget that one.  Things like that stick with you, even with all the gaps.  Things like then she washed and dried his feet, and cut his toenails, and rubbed away the hardened lumps of skin with a pumice stone before giving him a new pair of socks and asking him to send the next one in. Most people going out of their way not to touch you all day, to not hardly brush up against you or even catch your eye or anything.  And then that.  Washing and drying and holding his feet, one in each hand.  Things like that stick with you, on the whole.  Could sit and wait all day for a thing like that. 

Watching Ant stirring away at the mess in the spoon and remembering all this.  Waiting.   

Same with the hairdressers, when they go running their fingers through your hair.  Same with the nurses, changing your dressings or taking your blood pressure or listening to the crackling in your lungs, they got to touch you with their clean soft hands and no one says nothing about it but it all helps oh Christ but it helps."   (pages 72,73)

I started Even the dogs, thrilling at the beautiful way that McGregor writes - and he certainly does.  But the novel is pretty tough, a relentless circle of drink, drugs, death, and an autopsy thrown in for good measure.  It's cleverly done but not a light beach holiday read.  I still prefer his first novel, "If nobody speaks of remarkable things".

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