Mr. Phillips Paperback – April 1, 2001
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"The Debt to Pleasure...was greeted with such approval around the world (translated into more than 20 languages) as to make it a very tough act to follow. With Mr. Phillips, he has given readers that rare thing, a second novel better than the first." --Thomas Lynch, The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Lanchester triumphs again as the poet laureate of male hysteria, creating a fully imagined, entirely convincing, and utterly unlikely hero." --Boston Sunday Globe
From the Back Cover
Using the bits and pieces of one man's past, John Lanchester has drawn a fully dimensional life and, in the process, made in Mr Phillips an Everyman for our times.
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140298363
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140298369
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Grade level : 12 and up
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 7.74 x 5.09 x 0.56 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,696,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I listened to the first side of the first tape and picked up the audio cover again. I read and re-read the description on the back of the book, which DID NOT MATCH AT ALL to the story I was listening to. From the back description "Mr. Phillips is an Everyman for our times."
WHAAAA? An Everyman for our times? This guy, who can't seem to tell his wife the truth about his job, thinks about getting in on with every female character young/old/otherwise in the story, who wanders into porn shops and looks at his dead father's porn and who generally doesn't seem to have any personality at all? THIS GUY!?! (and it also doesn't endear your character as an 'everyman' when Tim Curry is reading as the voice).
I must not be far enough into the story I thought. So I continued. This was part of the deception of the writing here. There is no plot. If I wanted to hear the state-of-consciousness thoughts of someone - oh wait. We all do that everyday - it's called our own minds.
He didn't do anything in the story. He was not likable. Soon I came to loathe Mr. Phillips. By the time he arrives at the bank I wanted so badly for the robbers to kill him.
Don't get me wrong. I think John Lanchester absolutely has a very intense writing talent. It's just not on display here. He must have thought "Maybe I'll write a story that takes place all in a day, the mind of a man throughout the day". This is not a good choice unless we are really going to care about this person, and they are going to take us on the journey with them. I kept wanting to JUMP OFF this journey but the bus wouldn't stop.
If THIS is our Everyman - - - God help us all.
The day begins with Mr Phillips still in bed, snuggled up against his wife but having most of his erotic fantasies about other women. Home is a place of safety and warmth, his cocoon against the world, and we sense that this is where he feels happiest. One son has left home and the other is in that difficult phase of late teenage, but Mr Phillips is not burdened by angst and feels that he has done as well as expected on the family front. So why is he unable to be honest with them about losing his job?
Like all accountants, he is obsessed with numbers and sex. As he waits for his usual commuter train he cannot help calculating the average number of naked women in London's newspapers and magazines, and throughout the day he makes numerous calculations of averages and probabilities, often about the most trivial things. When he estimates the average amount of idle time in his days (two hours and thirty-seven minutes) he realises that from now on that average is about to be badly skewed.
He curtails his journey to the city and wanders through Battersea Park before heading into town. During the day he meets various characters, people that he would not have noticed on a working day. Many of them represent the shallow obsession with money and fame that drives London society. A pornographer is wandering about looking for ideas for his magazine, and Mr Phillips's son Martin has a business putting together themed compilations of old songs and selling them to a gullible public. (Reading this part of the novel I remembered the dread at Christmas and on birthdays in anticipation of some ancient relative trying to be `with it' by giving you one of these compilation discs, inevitably full of songs you could not abide.)
On the streets he meets joggers and cyclists, peddlers and performers, religious nutters, flocks of backpacking tourists, bored ticket sellers and angry young men driving white delivery vans. Mr Phillips observes it all with an impassive gaze, never judging but never really engaging with anyone around him. He wanders into the Tate gallery but there is nothing to inspire him, then later he goes to watch a pornographic film where the so-called lovemaking is mechanical and disappointing - the fantasies in his head are far more creative. He walks more than he has for many years, rides on buses and the Tube, but the city is no longer his home. Now that he is jobless it is unwelcoming and its strangeness more readily apparent.
Late in the afternoon he follows a minor television personality whom he fancies into a bank. Before he is able to think up an excuse for speaking to the woman, four robbers (the working class version of bankers) burst in and Mr Phillips finds himself face down on the floor, thinking about jokes, his childhood and wondering about his affection for the woman who led him here. In an uncharacteristic act of bravery, Mr Phillips challenges the robbers and the denouement makes him face the reality of his unemployment.
On the way home he drops into a pub for a beer - something he has not done for years - and as he nears Clapham you sense that he is looking forward to being back in the comfort of hearth and home. On the way he helps an old woman with her shopping and discovers a link to his childhood, and on arrival at home his younger son is washing the car in a scene of touching domesticity. This ends his day, but will his experiences have given him the courage to finally be honest with his wife?
This is a slow and detailed book and Mr Phillips's head is filled with the kinds of prosaic fancies and petty obsessions that haunt us all. The London he sees is often an unattractive place driven by Mammon, meanness and mediocrity. If you like a racy plot and the clash of characters, you will probably find this book unsatisfying. But it is an interesting meditation on life and London by a character who is grindingly ordinary on one level, but is also imbued with the individual quirks of the inner mind that make each of us an unknown realm to our family and friends.
The main character is lost in a suddenly new but thoroughly familiar landscape which is written so well, you'll feel you are there.
This is an easy read, but a well-written one that you will find yourself laughing out loud at.
I highly recommend this book.
Top reviews from other countries
Yet, once I got into the story I was gripped. Almost all the action takes place on a single traumatic day as the shell-shocked, newly redundant, Mr Phillips wanders through London feeling sorry for himself.
The observational descriptions of London provide a backcloth which can be enjoyed by anyone who knows the city.
The sexual content, mentioned by many reviewers, is more a believable mental rambling than something intentionally scatological. It reflects his state of mind and is believable.
As the day wears on a dramatic scene, perhaps slightly less believable than the rest of the day, unfolds.
The writing is good and improves as the book progresses. I found myself fascinated by what would happen next and kept reaching for the book until I finished. Even then I wanted more.
A brave and well written book well worth the effort.