PAGES: 366


YEAR: 2011




About the big, louche, broken-down city that’s London, amongst tattooed prostitutes, botched robberies and misdirected murders, Manny is on the slide. 

In the council flat he shared with Jabba – an obese hedonist awaiting alien intervention – he’d reading letters addressed to a previous tenant which detail the plight of Elijah, a pensioner. 

Manny buys a gun and a silencer. 

His extreme attempt to rectify things for Elijah is witnessed by Vernon Prendergast, a sinister narcoleptic, who proceeds to haunt the periphery of Manny’s life like a strange bad orbiting moon. 

Manny’s love for Svetlana might just save him.

His disdain for his chain-smoking mother and his childhood slaughter of her Mexican-hairless dog might scupper him entirely…   


The radio’s on. The window’s open. The only different tonight, the temperature outside. Everything else, it’s just the same: the paint on my hands, the alcohol in my bloodstream and Jabba, down the hallway, lying there collapsed, making more money unconscious than I have on  my knees in three days. 


Dog Binary is a library book. I pictured it up because of the front cover, or rather because of the feel of the front cover. The cover feels silky and squishy and made me want to read the pages between. Is that weird?

I like the way MacDonald structures Dog Binary. The chapters are like little vignettes that gradually build up Manny’s hilarious descent into mayhem and murder. Most of the chapters have descriptive headings like THE FUCKING ENIGMA OF THE LANDSCAPE DOG-FLAP. The chapters are fairly short and fast paced so I could speed read Dog Binary in fairly large chunks.

At first glimpse the front cover of Dog Binary is off putting with images of jars of urine and jars of prostate glands. These images are linked to the novel. Manny has an extremely enlarged prostate gland which leads to him needing to piss all the time. This creates some hilarious scenes. The best one is when he’s at the airport catching a flight to the US and trying to explain why he wants an aisle seat near the bathroom.

Dog Binary combines humour with more serious events. I found so much of it hilarious. Manny becomes moved by the plight of Elijah, an old man with dementia he reads about in letters sent to his flat for the previous tenant. He buys a gun to put the old man out of his misery. This leads to chaos and hilarity. A creepy guy witnesses this and sets out to make Manny’s life hell. This leads to more hilarity. I just found this a very real and funny novel. Manny is a dick-head, a real but funny one. What an amusing ass!

Random chapters of Dog Binary are some of the letters Manny receives addressed to the previous tenant. He reads them of course. Elijah has dementia and his poor suffering wife (? – I think) writes to a friend about various embarrassing episodes. I felt these were quite realistic is showing someone’s gradual descent into dementia as their condition worsens. My gran had Alzheimer’s and I could relate to what Beatrice wrote in her letters.

Dog Binary reminds me a lot of Trainspotting. I’m not really sure why. The movie, I mean, not the novel. I gave up reading the novel because the whole thing is written in dialect and it was too much effort to read. I’m Scottish and speak like that sometimes but couldn’t get to grips reading it. Manny reminds me of the characters in Trainspotting, taking drugs, having sex with prostitutes and generally fucking up his life.

Dog Binary is written in the first person and MacDonald make this work really well. MacDonald took me right inside Manny’s head. The narration is very close to him so you get a real sense of him as a person and the people around him. Dog Binary wouldn’t have worked so well with a third person narrator. I liked being inside Manny’s fucked up head.

MacDonald is a good, contemporary writer. The language he uses in Dog Binary is rich and vivid. He brought the characters and their messed up lives and the craziness of the city to memorable life. MacDonald’s style of writing is perfect for a contemporary urban novel. His style wouldn’t work for a horror novel.

There’s only one thing that gets a thumb down from me. There is a lot of swearing in Dog Binary. A lot. I’m not a prude and can swear with the best of them. The swearing in Dog Binary comes across as purely shock factor or as if MacDonald thinks he will created a more realistic and gritty urban feel if Manny says fuck and cunt a lot. This created a blimp in my enjoyment. Dog Binary would have been a brilliant novel if Manny hadn’t been such a potty mouth.



Up next: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, also a library book and another memoir.


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