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All Quiet On The Orient Express: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Magnus Mills may have single-handedly invented a new fictional genre: the Kafkaesque novel of work. First, his Booker-shortlisted The Restraint of Beasts brought to fence-building the kind of black humor found in a Coen brothers movie. Now, in All Quiet on the Orient Express, Mills turns his deadpan prose on some very odd jobs, indeed. The unnamed narrator is on holiday for a few weeks, camping in England's Lake District before beginning an extended journey to India. He sees no reason not to agree when the campground owner--the sinister Tommy Parker, who seems mainly to engage in "buying and selling"--asks him to help out with a simple chore. As this is a Magnus Mills novel, however, no chore can possibly be simple. Through error or bad luck, one task leads to another, and the narrator quickly finds himself trapped by his own passivity and a very English reluctance to cause a fuss. Soon he's doing homework for Parker's daughter, being kicked on and off the darts team at the local pub, and learning how to perform a series of menial jobs. ("Have you ever operated a circular saw?" "Driven a tractor before?" "What are you like with a hammer and nails?")

There's a lot that's strange about this little town. Where have all the females gone? Why does everyone seem to think he should take over the town milk route? Why won't the shops stock his beloved baked beans? Both the grocer and the pub are oddly eager to let him run up tabs, and there's no sign of payment from Tommy Parker. It seems, in fact, that the narrator's early suspicions have been fulfilled: "I'd inadvertently become his servant." Like the Hall brothers from The Restraint of Beasts, Parker is volatile, irrational, and all-powerful--a primitive god ruling over his own creation. As the narrator falls further and further under his sway, All Quiet on the Orient Express becomes a striking allegory of labor and capital, purgatory and judgment, and the uncanniness of manual work. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Booker and Whitbread Prize-finalist (and former bus driver) Mills (The Restraint of Beasts) maintains his reputation as a wry humorist, here transforming a fly-by-night entrepreneurial work ethic into a cue for a Kafkaesque comedy of manual labor. Mills's unnamed protagonist is an itinerant odd jobber hoping to save enough money for a trip to the "East" (Turkey, Persia and India). Meanwhile he's camping, living off canned beans and doing various chores in England's Lake District for camp manager and enigmatic jack-of-all trades Tommy Parker. Parker gathers scrap metal, runs shady ads in the Trader's Gazette, collects motorcycles and concocts hopelessly complicated schemes. The jobs he cooks up for the narrator, such as painting gates and a flotilla of rowboats, are seemingly simpleAyet they prove unpredictably disastrous, each task leading to another in a nightmarish shaggy dog novel of odd jobs getting odder. The narrator struggles under his mounting tabs at the pub and the grocer's, realizing that he seems to have acquired a sense of obligation toward his new environs, or is it rather an unfamiliar form of attachment? As the tourist season winds down, the narrator bonds with Parker's 15-year-old daughter, helping her with her homework, teaching her to play darts and engaging in a nice bit of comic sexual tension. The bleak off-season Lake District is made lively with darkly startling characters like Deaken, the schlemiel milkman, and a neighbor who constantly wears a cardboard Christmas crown. Unsettling touches such as the winter shortages of good biscuits, favorite ales and females, as well as the vague whiff of a mysterious town conspiracy, keep this story wicked, witty and weird. The deadpan humor is perhaps a touch less black in this laudable if less edgy followup to The Restraint of Beasts, but Mills never needs to raise his unique voice to make his disquieting mark. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1 edition (October 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684871688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684871684
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #158,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The only reason that I didn't give this 5 stars is because it is quite similar to 'Restraint of Beasts' although this is really much eerier as the plot centres around a single character 'stranded' in the countryside instead of the 3 characters in Magnus's first book. Therefore, I was more worried the character in this novel. There he is, having spent his holiday so far at camp site that I took to be in the Lake District, on the last week of the 'season' and he is happy to while a few morre days of solitude before continuing on his travels, hopefully to India. He is such an easy going person that he is only to help the owner of the camp-site out by painting a gate. This is actually his point of no return. The owner has a spooky daughter who lets him do all her homework and get the gold stars to go with it. He does get 'sort of' accepted in one the local pubs and even gets as far as making the darts team, only to get himself barred when he fails to turn up for an away game. Of course this was a match that he was really looking forward to and as far he knew he had noted the date correctly. The one time where he does try to leave, the weather is bad that his motorbike packs up and he 'rescued' by the person that has become his boss and landlord. As I'm writing this, I now regret not giving the book 5 stars as it has really preyed on my mind since I read it [all in one sitting]. Please please read this. It is not the sort the of book I would usually pick and I'm also often put off by the author being nominated for the Booker Prize' as Magnus Mills was for his debut novel. Believe me, he is far far better than any other new novelist around. I hope that if I am ever in the Brixton area waiting for a bus that he is the driver.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Magnus Mills is a genius for creating anti-heroes we care about and love and remember so well. He did it in Restraint of Beasts and does it again in his latest effort. He brilliantly has pulled off a fable about barter and wages in a contemporary yet primitive society ruled by a mysterious partiarch. The nameless narrator sinks deeper and deeper into the patriarch's clutches while deluding himself that he is about to make a voyage. But the narrator's trip east is simply a chimera. He has more in common with the stagnant town than he wants to believe. Ultimately, it's not the plot but the style, the language, the dialogue, and the humor that is so magical and compelling. I hope Mills publishes his absurd fables once a year.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
There?s something about British humor that no other English-language literature will ever be able to supplant. The narrator -- whose name we never learn -- is a young odd-jobs-man who is presently on holiday with his motorbike and tent in the Lake District. It?s late summer, he?s been at the campground a week, and he?s about to depart, when Tommy Parker offers him a bit of temporary employment painting the front gate. One thing leads to another, and the narrator finds himself responsible for painting a flock of rowboats, cutting firewood (on loan, as Mr. Parker seems to have rented him out), spending his evenings at the local pub (where he?s recruited for the darts team), and being drafted by 15-year-old Gail Parker to do her homework. But money almost never changes hands. Everyone in the area knows everything about everyone else -- including him, he discovers. And then Mr. Deakin, the milkman disappears into the lake while helping locate the new mooring raft, and the narrator finds himself with the milk route, as well. The story is perfectly deadpan, in a very sly, droll way, and the effect is cumulative and almost Hitchcockian -- especially the last page! Even though one might get annoyed with the narrator for allowing himself to be so thoroughly taken advantage of, this is a most delightful yarn.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Kite on October 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
We just discussed this book in our book club, and the group split in the same way as the reviewers here - some found it unique and gripping, and the rest found it hopelessly dull, and even frustrating (they kept willing the central character to DO SOMETHING). From our small sampling, it didn't appear that you have to be 'artsy fartsy' (as stated by another reviewer) to enjoy this book.
'All Quiet', in my opinion, credits the reader with being able to (a) fill in missing pieces of the story as needed and (b) let the story unfold by itself without trying to impose a particular direction on it. Of course the main character could leave if he wanted to. Of course he could tell Mr Parker to shove it. Of course he could demand his baked beans and custard creams from Mr Hodge. But then it wouldn't be the same book, and that's the point.
If you happen to like it, I highly recommend 'The Restraint Of Beasts', Mills's first novel. If anything it's even more of a page-turner. The ending is a bit disappointing but who cares?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Meg Brunner on June 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Strange story about a young man who decides to take a short camping trip before heading off to explore India. However, while he's camping, the campground's owner asks him if he'd do an odd job in exchange for the camping fees he owed. Soon that odd job is leading to even ODDER odd jobs and before he knows it, he's moved in and started working full-time. But something about the whole thing feels really strange. First, there's all that green paint. Then there's a convenient death. This book really held my attention -- in fact, I read it in one sitting -- but I was disappointed in the ending. It almost seemed like Mills was on a strict deadline and just had to stop working when he got to the end of it, whether he was done with the story or not. At the same time, something about the novel's tone makes me wonder if he didn't do that on purpose just to disappoint the readers. Some kind of satire of contrived sinister-ness? Hard to say, but I'm definitely intrigued and will look for his earlier novel, The Restraint of Beasts.
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