Innocence, experience and comedy in Cumbria.
He’s a bit of a handyman. Or, at least, so Mr Parker seems to think. No matter, he’ll soon be on that train east to India from these wet lakeland fells. Just as soon as he’s finished that little job Mr Parker asked him to do.
It wasn’t much of a holiday anyway. As the tourists trickled away from the campsite, so did the sunshine, and the hot water, and the provisions at the local shop, and even the good beer. Still, there seemed to be plenty of work to take his mind off these minor disappintments – as much as he cared to do, in fact, even homework. And payment could be discussed later. Meanwhile, he was really beginning to fit in, to become one of the local fixtures, down the pub, on the farm, on the lake. Maybe that trip east could wait?
In this cautionary tale of labour and capital, of innocence and experience, Magnus Mills takes us back to the kind of terrain he patrolled so notably in The Restraint of Beasts – rural circuits where neither cash nor unemployment are much prized – and makes it conclusively his own turf.
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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 humour 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 the 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 labour and capital, purgatory and judgement, and the uncanniness of manual work. --Mary ParkReview:
Mills is an unusually rural writer at a time when British fiction has a strong urban tendency. His great skill is to capture the fantastic boredom of country life, the vacuousness of days and nights, and what that can lead to... He is a writer who has already found his ground, and he sticks to it in this book.
The structure and strength of both [his] novels comes from their dialogue, which is natural yet as stylised as Pinter... There is little in the way of story and less description. The atmosphere is powerful and lies somewhere between comedy and horror. -- The Observer, 12 September 1999
The arrival of Magnus Mills on the British literary scene is extraordinarily refreshing. He represents a genuinely avant garde voice who has breathed new life into the genre (if it can be called a genre) by flouting all expectations of what a novel can be about... Mills is genuinely unique, but if he is to be placed anywhere in the jigsaw of literary history, he will have to slot between Albert Camus and Enid Blyton. [He is] oneof the handful of British writers to work in a unique fictional universe. For this, Mills is to be treasured and revered. You cannot ask more of a book than for it to make the familiar seem fresh, strange and scary. In a modest, sneaky way, Mills pulls this off better than any other writer at work today. -- The Independent on Sunday, 19 September 1999
The author's anarchic humour owes more to Monty Python, perhaps, than to Beckett but that is not play down its quality. His new novel, All Quiet on the Orient Express, follows exactly the same unusual formula as his first and has all of that book's wit and peculiarity - if not more... Mills has the skill to make his dialogue ring completely true and at the same time to freight the most apparently banal comment with surreal overtones. His transparent, elegant prose is deceptively simple and a pleasure to read. -- Evening Standard, 6 September 1999
The deadpan humour of Magnus Mills is back. It is now improved and twice as bizarre... Short, sweet and really funny, All Quiet on the Orient Express is an absolute gem and a pleasure to read. -- The Bookseller, 25 June 1999
This new novel is definitely like his last: it is just as absorbing, darkly worrying and very, very funny. -- The Times, 18 September, 1999
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Book Description Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0002259060
Book Description Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 2259060