And then (not before time) we came to the end

6 06 2009

And then we came to the end by Joshua Ferris

I think I was slightly seduced by the hype for this one – it did sound like something a bit different as the blurb suggests:

Then end_

They spend their days – and too many of their nights – at work. Away from friends and family, they share a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers they call colleagues. There’s Chris Yop, clinging to his ergonomic chair; Lynn Mason, the boss, whose breast cancer everyone pretends not to talk about; Carl Garbedian, secretly taking someone else’s medication; Marcia Dwyer, whose hair is stuck in the eighties; and Benny, who’s just – well, just Benny. Amidst the boredom, redundancies, water cooler moments, meetings, flirtations and pure rage, life is happening, to their great surprise, all around them. Then We Came to the End is about sitting all morning next to someone you cross the road to avoid at lunch. It’s the story of your life and mine.

Hmm, perhaps I wasn’t concentrating. But then look at all these fab reviews from the quality press:

Observer: ‘Brilliant, funny, stomach-turningly accurate . . . an attention-grabbing display of virtuosity . . . Descriptions of the ordinary are so good they need no elaboration’

Sunday Times: `[A] formidable first novel which the whole of America is talking about’

Saturday Telegraph: `Darkly funny and often tragic – a Catch-22 of the cubicles – [it] unravels the chaotic reality behind the unified corporate identity’

Daily Mail:`Slick, sophisticated and very funny, Ferris’s cracking debut has modern Everyman fighting for his identity in an increasingly impersonal world’

Does rather make it sound like a work of pure genius, doesn’t it? Unfortunately it really is quite dreadful. There are a few redeeming comedy moments which are observationally acute but, on the whole, the book is a just a self-indulgent litany of dull happenings with a slightly uncomfortable, extensive and jarring passage detailing one character’s breast cancer.

And about two thirds of it is written in first person plural. At first this seems like quite a clever conceit but before long it began to annoy intensely. You really wouldn’t want this to be the story of your life.

I was so glad when we came to the end (and can’t believe I actually did make it that far).

1 star

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