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Mr Phillips Hardcover – April 10, 1999

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Hardcover, April 10, 1999
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (April 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399146040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399146046
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.3 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,137,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Elegant, demonic, obsessive, John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure won the Whitbread Award for first novel, was short-listed for many others, and was translated into a dizzying number of foreign languages. Its narrator, Tarquin Winot, displays an encyclopedic knowledge of food and haute cuisine, and must surely be one of the first fictional "foodie-killers." The author's second novel, Mr Phillips, is in a very different key. The eponymous protagonist, a 50-year-old London accountant, has lost his job but hasn't told his family. He leaves for work as usual on Monday morning, and finds himself wandering aimlessly around the city, taking it all in. So the odyssey begins.

A statistician and inveterate quantifier, Mr Phillips likes to give marks out of ten for things (including sexual dreams), a habit that has especially humorous consequences when he visits the Tate Gallery. A Gaudier-Brzeska head: seven out of ten; The Boyhood of Raleigh: five. His thoughts on Millais's Ophelia are typical: "If she had drowned surely she wouldn't be floating on her back like that? Certainly that wasn't how drowned people looked on TV. Six out of ten." Mr Phillips's judgments may lack sophistication, but they are often hilariously apt, and above all true to his personality. He has a penchant for mental arithmetic, and speculates about how many women in England pose nude for magazines and tabloids (16,744, he deduces). He isn't exactly sex-obsessed, but he illustrates dramatically the notion that men think about sex a great deal of the time.

His thoughts also meander in many directions: How many people on a London bus have never been on the river Thames? What would the financial accounts of the Battersea Park authorities look like? Standing on Chelsea Bridge, he calculates the speed at which a suicide would hit the water. Is this litany of seemingly trivial arithmetical puzzles a response to the trauma of unemployment, or is it a heightened version of the mind games we all privately play? Mr Phillips is extremely observant and insightful--he should have given up accountancy long ago. He is good on old age and especially good on death: "But the thought that you would be aware of what was going on as you died implied that somewhere in his future was a moment of the purest terror, terror at 200 proof, so that you could have a small taste of the fear every time you let your mind touch on the subject, even for a second or two."

Reviewers have already been talking about literary influences--Woolf, Joyce, Wells--but John Lanchester's mesmerizing second novel has a cumulative power and brilliance all its own. --Jonathan Allison

From Publishers Weekly

Second novels--especially those appearing in the wake of bestselling debuts--present a particular challenge to writers. Following up The Debt to Pleasure with a solid purposefully prosaic tale of a middle-class Englishman, Lanchester acquits himself honorably. Victor Phillips is a 50-something everyman with two sons; a long, comfortable marriage; and a stultifying position as an accountant. Suddenly, on a Friday afternoon, Phillips finds himself downsized. He cannot bring himself to tell his wife, and sets off for work on Monday morning as usual. Taking a train into London, he wanders around, invites his adult son to lunch, visits a porno theater, then endlessly ruminates about the plot of the movie. When he is not musing on sex, he sinks into Walter Mittyesque daydreams or ponders the vagaries of fatherhood and his uncomplicated childhood. The only action occurs when his bank is robbed while he is standing in line. As in The Debt to Pleasure, plot is not paramount, but here the all-important detail is more domestic than exotic. In making a relentlessly ordinary man his hero, Lanchester risks losing himself in the banal. But when he hits the mark, he achieves a sharp-edged clarity. Phillips's wry observations--"We wouldn't care so much what people thought of us if we knew how seldom they did," or "When you are young, sex is It, when you are older, death is"--balance his recurring lists and calculations, as when walking in Battersea Park, he "feels the long-suppressed need to draw up a tranquillising double-entry." As soothing as a bill of accounts, and periodically much more stimulating, this stylishly written novel makes it clear that Lanchester is more than a one-hit wonder. BOMC featured alternate; audio rights to Simon & Schuster; author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Makes me proud to be a "Mr. Phillips." Bravo.
Chuck Phillips
I wanted to really like this book, and while I didn't dislike it I found it hard to get excited about it.
Mr. M. Bloomfield
Lanchester has done a wonderful job of making Mr. Phillips a unique and complete character.
Chris MB

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
MR. PHILLIPS is a recent inductee into my personal Pantheon of great modern literature. This is a terrific - indeed, incandescent - little book about a single day in the life of a very ordinary middle-class Englishman who has just lost his job and hasn't yet broken the news to his family. There's nothing, and yet everything to this seemingly inconsequential work. It reminds us, again, that even at its bleakest, life is more comedy than tragedy. As a writer, Lanchester is, in the English way, a precisionist. Most of his conceits are so economic, sharp, original and outrageous that you read the entire book (it can be done in a few hours) shivering with pleasure and wishing that you yourself were half as talented.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Phillips on April 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Mr. Phillips" has achieved the impossible: one-upping the most intelligent/hilarious book ever written: Joe Heller's "Catch 22". The "Minutes of the Wellesley Crescent Watch Comittee meeting" almost put me in the hospital. I was in laugh pain on every subsequent page. I was attracted to the book principally because of the title (being a Mr. Phillips myself, I thought it would look spiffy on my coffee table). Knew nothing about the writer. Never heard of the book. This was blind luck at its best. I now read excerpts aloud (to everone's delight) at work and dinner parties. I've become a John Lanchester evangalist. I hope he writes a lot more stuff. Makes me proud to be a "Mr. Phillips." Bravo.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Phillips chronicles the first day of unemployment for aredundant accountant in London. No one knows he is out of work; hegets up and goes into town, as he normally would. The fortunate reader gets to occupy the imagination of this middle aged ex-accountant as he ponders on sex, family, city life, and death. John Lanchester 's writing is droll and at times will make you laugh out loud. But there is a deeper story in this novel which will move the reader to a feeling of satisfaction and delight at the end of Mr. Phillip's day. Mr. Phillips remains with the reader long after the last page is read. A well written and entertaining novel.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "scottish_lawyer" on July 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Lanchester's A Debt to pleasure was one of the best first novels by an English writer in recent years. The central character was beguiling, witty, snobbish, urbane, and seemed to have fallen from the pages of a Nabokov novel.
Mr Phillips is not as satisfying, but it is still enjoyable. It is a day in the life of a man that has lost his job, but cannot face telling his family. He gets the train, he walks about, he stares at pretty girls, he thinks about sex, he stalks, (the humdrum normality of suburban English lives. Anyway, you get the idea)...
The prose is understated, and consciously mundane. In its own way the novel is as stylised as A Debt to pleasure.
From the mundanity Lanchester works (Sometimes too hard) at deriving humour. Sometimes, the humour is heavy handed, at other times - when it stems from the character's foibles - it works wonderfully. As the eponymous anti-hero has an accountancy background much of the humour stems from his obsession with numbers. For example, his consideration of sex is based around numbers, statistics, and percentages.
The mundanity does not work as well as in books such as The Diary of a nobody. However, Lanchester does make tedium fun. Despite the humour the central character is well drawn, with a human side (although Lanchester occasionally totters on the brink of mawkish senitmentality in relation to him).
Mr Phillips is an enjoyable book, and is easily read. It feels, though, as if this is an exercise by Lanchester in ventriloquism (reminding me in parts of the short stories of Candia McWilliam). Now that he has tried on a couple of voices, could the real John Lanchester step forward please. Because when he does, the signs are that he will produce something great.
People who like Martin Amis (his pre-dental work stage) should enjoy this.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James T. King on June 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
Whew. It's good to be back in my own consciousness. John Lanchester's "Mr Phillips" is the literary equivalent of that wonderfully quirky film "Being John Malkovich" a few years ago. From the first sentence, we are dropped in medias res into the curiously cool mindset of just fired ("made redundant" in his accountant's patois) Mr Phillips. It is Monday morning as we lie in bed with slumbering Mrs Phillips and drift into our various fantasies of other women, each meticulously "rated" in a manner befitting an ob-com CPA. Thus are the two central motifs ignited: women (and sex generally) and descriptive numeracy of all sorts.
From here, fiftyish Mr Phillips, who has decided not to reveal his employment situation to his wife (or two grown sons,) goes through the typical work-a-day motions and finds himself wandering aimlessly for the first time in over thirty years. His observations and analyses place us squarely in London, which, as usual, becomes an outsized character per se, one which shapes and effects its teeming international amalgam. Throughout, we are treated to"number/probability/odds" rants about any and all things. Regarding the lottery frenzy, for example, we find that "proper" actuarial tables show that "in order for the probability of winning the jackpot to be greater than the odds of being dead by the time of the draw, one would have to bet no earlier than three and a half minutes before the draw." Put another way, death has a greater chance of finding us than does the lotto fairy. This is but one of hundreds of revelations, all put forth with a completely straight-face.
The tics, eccentricities, inner symbols, fears, joys, memories, and fantasies - both light and dark -crowd the currents of this odd stream of consciousness.
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More About the Author

John Lanchester is the author of the novels The Debt to Pleasure, Mr. Phillips, and Fragrant Harbor; and a memoir, Family Romance. He is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Observer, and The Daily Telegraph, among others. Among several other prizes, including the Whitbread and Hawthornden Awards, Lanchester was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.

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