Carrie, I find it hilarious that you finished the book all in one big gulp, as you've contradicted Frank McCourt's blurb* right off the bat. Now you have to fight him when the 3 p.m. bell rings. I hear he's a scrapper.
This really is a remarkable book. (Physically beautiful object too, as all McSweeney's books are.)
Most of what stuck with me about this novel has already been cited: Murphy's and the spoon-bending narrator's perfectly harsh yet lyrical voices; the blend of surrealist details and symbols with a very real world and real family; the rambly but focused quality of the prose; the almost grotesque quality of details at times and the simple beauty of them at others; and, yes, the dog. (Though the police horse is memorable for me as well, Kassia.) Often I'm annoyed when an author holds back the narrator's name; it feels too much like a device, but here the character is conjured so perfectly, right from the start, that it never bothered me. Murphy is able to pull off a lot of magic tricks here, and it's hard to figure her sleight of hand, exactly.
In workshops and writing classes, you can't go 20 minutes without someone talking about using different/better/exactly-the-right details. And yet, it's incredibly rare to come across a book where so many of the details line by line actually are memorable and resonant. Not just window-dressing that builds a world but integral to the narrative itself. Where the sensory quality seems true and easily conjured at once.
And the deadpan way in which these are often rendered gave the novel a great sense of humor to me. What could be just tragedy -- the heaps of garbage, the frozen-over toilet in winter, a girl allowing herself to be groped for free hot dogs -- is often less depressing because we are not forced to wallow in the awfulness of it. The narrator refuses that simple a reaction. She is not reflecting the story, so much as channeling it. This is her life and when you're a kid, you don't have a large enough frame of reference to judge that life against others. It's just her life, at this point, she's too young for it to be otherwise. And in that I definitely see a connection to those memorable girl narrators you mentioned in your initial post, Carrie. What makes this such a page-turner (because it is, despite not being plotted in a conventional page-turnery way) is the narrator's breathless recounting of all this as she experiences it, clean of judgment.
The I Capture the Castle connection is thus deemed valid!
*“This is a hell of a book. You might not be able to finish Here They Come in one sitting, but it will haunt you till you do. What detail! What characters! I can imagine both Jane Austen and Raymond Carver pouring over this masterly novel.” — Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes