“Thanks Mark for your help on this job. I bought you this great book.”
So my friend Ian said to me in late June as he passed me a hard back copy of the above novel. Unknown to me, mainly because it’s American and a first novel by early 30’s Illinoisian Joshua Ferris. It’s had little critical coverage in the UK and that is a great shame because this book is very much worthy of our attention.
It’s set in a Chicago ad agency.
So, I would like it, I’m an adman.
It has nothing to do with advertising, despite virtually every page of the book being set in this crumbling, despairing, uncreative prison that is called work. What it is, is a book about work. But more than that, it’s about the tribalism that occurs in the workplace. Tribalism that causes a great deal of hurt, but also a great deal of humour. She’s out because she wears the wrong clothes, he’s out because he wrote the wrong headline et al.
But the real clue to its central theme of tribalism comes from the fact that, like the awesome Jeffery Eugenides’ ‘Virgin Suicides’, it is written in the third person plural.
This simple literary device allows the book to be massively judgemental and, on the rare occasion , when it slips into third person , to be desperately personal.
It is funny as hell. It is sad as hell. It is so well observed that it can only have come from the pen of an advertising lifer. Wrong. Joshua Ferris has barely stepped over the threshold of an ad agency in his life.
It essentially captures, like I’ve never read before, the culture of the workplace. The situation is bleak, post Dotcom-boom the ad agency in question is going bust, people all around are dying (hence the title – on two levels) but a “pro bono” cancer campaign is holding the mutinous ranks together. They all know it’s a facade. So do we.
As the book progresses blackness clouds the skies and we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The answer is…both.
I urge you to buy this book. You will not regret it.
This little taster might get you going…
But then, it just makes it look wanky.
It is not. Far from it.
A first novelist’s masterpiece and an American writer to join the Frantzen ranks.
Roll on number two.