Archive for June, 2008

Magnus Mills – The Scheme For Full Employment

June 27, 2008

Magnus Mills - Scheme for Full EmploymentA charity shop buy from somewhere in Hammersmith, West London from what I remember.

I’d heard of Mills, simply because he won the Booker Prize for a novel I’ve never read and can’t remember the name of at the moment anyway. On seeing this, I thought I’d give it a try to see if his writing is actually any good.

I’d describe The Scheme For Full Employment as a bit of a curate’s egg.

Basically, the plot is about The Scheme, which everyone strives to get into because it guarantees a full eight-hours work and 40-hour week. It’s all about depots, distribution and driving vans around from one depot to another.

I can see that his style is quite deadpan and aims to get into the head of everyday man. It seems to me that this book is about the futility of life and how everyone just wants to get by and that there will always be someone who’s willing to upset the proverbial applecart to get ahead.

But ultimately, it’s pretty boring. You can guess the ‘gag’ behind The Scheme pretty early on and the ‘twist’ near the end isn’t really a twist, it’s the only possible outcome.

I’m sure people might say that the outcome isn’t as important as the how you get there, but the journey there isn’t particularly exciting either, in this case.

On the evidence of this, Mills should be sacked!

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Automated Alice – Jeff Noon

June 23, 2008

Automated AliceWhen you see a slightly deranged image of Alice in Wonderland, it’s tough not to be seduced. Thus it was that I snapped up my copy of Automated Alice back in 1998, not really knowing what to expect.

Basically Automated Alice is a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s two Alice novels, set in modern-day Manchester, where Alice Liddell finds herself at the centre of the ‘Jigsaw Murders’.

Jeff Noon manages to recreate the writing style of Carroll, full of wordplay, puns, nonsense and a general lightness of touch, but give it a 20-century twist.

In fact, my initial take on the book was to be slightly disconcerted. What was this? A homage? A sci-fi novel? A comedy played purely for laughs? In fact, it’s probably all those and more.

At that time, I’d never heard of Noon, the author of cult novel Vurt, which I have since read. Now I realise that Noon was also writing a sequel to this novel as well, referencing the infamous feathers.

But Automated Alice doesn’t need to be read as one of a series – it stands up on its own merits like all good books should and doesn’t lose any of its joy if read as a standalone book.

It is, in fact, a book I have passed onto or bought for other friends and, although I have been met by quizzical looks from some, most have been bowled over by something they would never have bought for themselves.

By all means check out Vurt and Pollen, Noon’s earlier two novels, first but for an instant hit of feelgood fantasy give Automated Alice a go. I hope you won’t regret it.

Slabrat – Ted Heller

June 16, 2008

SlabratSlab Rat – terrible name, cracking book. Written by the son of Joseph “Catch-22” Heller, Slab Rat is a story about the world of magazines in New York.

Zachary Post works on It, a trashy celebrity monthly magazine loosely based on Vanity Fair. It mocks the way magazines are run, the people who work in them and the seriousness they try to imbue them with.

Slab Rat has no pretentions to high literature – it’s a rollicking read that mocks both celebrity culture and the people who are employed to give it air.

I have to confess I have a vested interest, given that I’ve worked in the world of magazines in the past, so it possibly makes Slab Rat far more entertaining than other people might find it.

That said, it’s written with an enjoyable ear and eye for office life and should provide more than a laugh or two for anyone who works in front of a computer all day and has to put up with the pettiness of spending all day behind a desk.

A far cry from the subject matter of his father’s legendary novel, that doesn’t make this book any less of an achievement. If you fancy an easy, enjoyable, undemanding read that’s a cut above the normal, then you could do a lot worse than Slab Rat.