DARK COMEDY All Quiet On The Orient
Express Magnus Mills (Flamingo £9.99)
Chucking in the job has to be one of the most exciting if highly stressful and daunting moments in anyone's life. For Magnus Mills, the opportunity came just after Christmas last year. Having toiled in manual labour for over 20 years, Mills had set about putting his hands to literary use.
His debut The Restraint Of Beasts, had catapulted this London bus driver onto the Booker nomination list and into exalted company such as Julian Barnes, Beryl Bainbridge and the eventual winner Ian McEwan. ‘Halfway through duty I just said that I was leaving,’ recalls Mills. ‘I think they expected it because I‘d had so much time off with the publicity for the book and I‘d taken some leave to go to Brazil. And then you come back to London to drive a bus and well . . . The conductor was delighted because
Laidback Orient: Magnus Mills
he had the rest of the day off.‘
Indeed, his colleagues were far from bitter, even boosting sales of his debut and were glued to the box when the Booker Prize ceremony was screened. ‘I was being dogged all night by a bloody trade journalist,’ remembers Mills. ‘Writers are a funny bunch; I had a ’ brief chat with a couple of them but we had little in common apart from being on the list.’
Magnus Mills’ follow-up (it was also shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the McKitterick Prize) is a similarly deadpan comedy with a brooding sense of menace which remains brooding and stays in the reader‘s head for some time after. All Quiet On The Orient Express sees our handyman hero dreaming of escaping the drudgery of dirty task after unfulfiling job and heading east to India. Meanwhile, he is left to help the boss' daughter with her homework, avoid being hit by a dart down the pub and ensure he doesn‘t drown in the lake. The beauty of the writing is not knowing just
what is round the corner and the possibility that that suspense will not be sated.
For a writer to maintain such a cool, calculated detachment, there must be something of the deadpan permanently fixed in his life. ‘I tend to react to things instantly without thinking things through; I‘m quite rash,‘ insists Mills. 'T he other day someone came to the door and said “is that your car outside, it's got the keys left in?” and I told them it wasn't and they asked if I wanted to look after the keys. Well, instead of saying "get lost, it‘s not my problem", I took the keys and had to run around getting the police and sorting it out because I‘d responded without thinking it through.’
The future for Magnus Mills seems altogether more organised - ‘l'm writing a ghost story at the moment to scare people at Christmas and then I‘d like to go to the Arctic Circle or the Grand Canyon.‘ Writers certainly are a funny lot. (Brian Donaldson)
I All Quiet On The Orient Express is out now.
Demon read: Iain Grant
100 THE UN 23 Sep—7 Oct 1999
Smalltown AntiChrist Iain Grant (Oil Of The Greater North £8 99)
Everybody knows that bureaucracy is an evil thing, put on this earth to torment us. What few of us were aware of, however, is just how evil it is. lain Grant’s debut novel Smalltown AntiChrist illustrates that it is indeed a tool of the Devil.
Set in Edinburgh, it revolves around the efforts of Hector Sextus Hepton, a Civil Servant and the new AntiChrist, to build an evil empire which will ultimately see him controlling the entire world. Between his daytime job of preparing for the new Scottish Parliament and the administrative problems of establishing his supremacy, the demands on Hector's time and energy soon begin to have adverse effects. He gets caught up in the parochial mindset of middle-class Edinburgh and his large-scale plans
become somewhat downsized.
Written mainly in a journal format from Hector’s viewpoint, this is predominantly a comedy, but there are some pretty queasy passages too. 'Some parts of it make me shudder on re-reading them and make me feel a bit nauseous,’ admits Grant, a former journalist, research student in Japan and boiler cleaner in a chicken-feed factory.
Fortunately, these moments are kept to a minimum, and the focus is placed more on a philosophical exploration of the nature of evil. ’Evil is not a supernatural force,’ he claims. 'lt’s a function of government or any large organisation. If there were an AntiChrist, he would be more likely to be President of the United States, or of some large corporation like Microsoft. Not that I'm saying Bill Gates is the AntiChrist of course - just that he's ideally placed.’ (Kirsty Knaggs)
I Smalltown AntiChrist is published on Mon 27 Sep.
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Victoria Griffin
Who she? Victoria Griffin is a London- based poet, writer and translator. And mistress.
Her debut It’s called The Mistress with the subtitle of ’Histories, Myths And Interpretations Of The “Other Woman".’
First paragraph test 'I am a mistress. In making that statement I mean not only that I am currently involved with a married man, but that there has been a consistent pattern in my life of playing the part of the "other woman”. The men I attract to myself are invariably already attached — legally or otherwise — to someone else.’
Basically Basically, it’s a history of the mistress from the viewpoint of those doing the mistressing. Griffin seeks to ask rather a lot of questions: why, at the end of the 20th century, does our society continue to see infidelity as an unfathomable abberation? Why do women become mistresses? Why do men love them? ls there a way of marriage and infidelity accommodating one another With the minimum of pain? She looks for the answers by examining many of history's most notorious infidels — from Lillie Langtry to Monica Lewmsky and Simone de Beauvoir to Sara Keays — as well as the famous men who have had affairs, such as Rodin, Camus and HG. Wells. Judging a book The front cover shows John William Waterhouse’s painting Circe Offering The Cup To Ulysses. Which shows and says it all.
To whom the book is for ’Dedicated to the Abbess of the Paraclete.’ Ending it all The book’s 308 pages is rounded off with a porgnant and detailed analysis of the phrase 'I love you' and concludes that, while the institution of marriage exists, there will always be those who turn to someone that society says they shouldn't, to satisfy their needs.
I The Mistress IS published by Bloomsbury on Thu 23 Sep priced £78. 99.
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