25 August 2009

Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris)

This book is EVERYWHERE. You can't walk into a second-hand bookshop without the offensive neon yellow of the cover jumping out at you. When I first saw Then We Came to the End on Charing Cross Road my reaction was to shy away immediately. The font on the spine looks like a Christopher Brookmyre novel and heavens to Betsy that man hurts my brain. Upon discovering that this was NOT in fact a Brookmyre novel my curiosity was piqued and I picked it up. It then took me a long time to open the covers and have a read. I was worried. One book in that many swap shops is a warning. People do not want this book in the house. It's like when I had to read The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody for English class. The book disturbed me so much I felt compelled to give it away after the exam. Creepy, doomsday teenage fiction set in an ABATTOIR... I did not want it on my bookshelf, giving me goosebumps every time I caught sight of it.

I therefore assumed Ferris' novel to be similar. People do not routinely sell junky, mediocre fiction they purchased for a beach holiday. Those inane titles tend to sit on bookshelves for years, hidden behind The Kite Runner and A Fine Balance, saved for those times when an appendix has ruptured or heart has broken. People sell books that have inherently upset them in some way.

However, I don't know who would be upset by this book. Granted, I haven't finished it. Probably because it was so unbelievably boring that to finish it would have been a feat equal in perseverance to an amputee stumping their way up Everest. From what I have read, I can tell you this. It is about people who work for a publishing company. It details the minutiae of their working lives. I believe it to be narrated from a group perspective, thus giving a lovely, communist vibe to the whole thing. At one point a little girl is abducted and they all spend an afternoon making posters to advertise her disappearance.

That's where I stopped. If you would like to know if she turns up, I suggest you go to ANY second-hand bookshop in the English-speaking world and pick up a copy. It will probably be my copy.

Actually, you will probably be upset by it if you bought the novel based on the endorsement from The New York Times- "One of the ten best books of the year." Ohhh... a bad, bad year for literature then.

The writing is actually very, very good. Ferris has an unusual style to his sentence structure and he has a firm grasp on the tense which is unusual in these long-winded, philosophy of the mundane novels. I think this could have been brilliant if it had the slightest bit of passion, but the whole thing comes across as a bit soulless.

Which may in fact, be the point- highlighting the pedestrian nature of our working experiences. In which case, well done Ferris. You have achieved your goal and subsequently, have written a novel no one can read.

Rating: 4/10.
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