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All Quiet On The Orient Express: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2000
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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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I think it was unfortunate that Mills created an expectation in some not familiar with his work that there would somehow be a journey across the Russian steps and those people are disappointed. However, those that savor the other worldliness that Mills is capable of creating will not be disappointed. This is his second best book after The Restraint of Beasts.