Sunday, February 24, 2008

book review - Then We Came to the End

The weird thing about the timing of reading this book, that has its comic moments but is more than just a straight comedy by Joshua Ferris, is how I came to read it.

This was one of the tope ten books of last year according to quite a few authorative sources, including the New York Times Book Review and my boss also recommended it to me. That was the strangest thing of all because this is largely a story of us and them and of course my boss is one of ‘’them’ so for a good deal of the time I tried to work out who he would identify with in the story. The second set of circumstances that made an odd backdrop was turning up to work finding out that there were some redundancies.

The way most people would attempt to summarise this book is to describe it as a comedy dealing with the difficult issue of redundancies with a collection of characters that have been used to draw out the different possible reactions. So you get someone in complete denial, the revenge taker who comes back to haunt those that did him wrong and numerous other cases of people vainly fighting the inevitable as they put their personal belongings into a box.

It could have very much gone into an us and them situation with the boss and her stooge being painted out to be the villains of the piece. But Ferris is clever here because he gives both Lynn the boss and Joe Pope depth that reveals how lonely and scared the former is of dying of cancer and how the second is scared of being in a group because of something that happened in his youth.

At the end the years have gone by and the main characters meet up at a book reading by someone reading out something closely resembling Ferris’s own text. They go to a bar and remember the old times – what everyone always does with old colleagues – before going their separate ways ending the ‘we’ that has been maintained throughout the book.

There has to be a comment about the style. The story works because it is fuelled by humour but it is also real and keeps you wanting to find out much in the same way a soap opera unfolds.

But the style is something that is thought through and maintained creating a feeling that most of the time you as the reader feel part of the group. You identify with those that are scheming and plotting to protect themselves from the corporate axe. You feel that you would be with the workers rather than the bosses and at the end there is a hint that the reader has been there for the whole journey sitting alongside the narrator.

This is enjoyable, sadly now something that is of its time again as redundancies sweep through the corporate world. But it shows that there is life both inside and outside the office and the importance of friendships, love and even anger. Without those emotions this story would lack its ability to make you laugh and then cry within the space of just a few paragraphs. This is a story about something with all know, about people we can all lay over the characters and for those that work in a job they spend most of their time hating or trying to avoid this is a book about us.

Version read – Penguin paperback

No comments: