Vinyl dreams

14 07 2018

 

The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills

 

Two men with a passion for vinyl create a society for the appreciation of records. Their aim is simple: to elevate the art of listening by doing so in forensic detail. The society enjoys moderate success in the back room of their local pub, The Half Moon, with other enthusiasts drawn to the initial promise of the weekly gathering. The master of the comic deadpan returns for his ninth novel, a spectacularly disingenuous exploration of power, fanaticism and really, really good records.

 

A wonderful novel which two vinyl-loving musical purists launch a distinctive society, which meets in a local pub and is dedicated to listening to records (mainly singles) forensically. Others soon join in, each with their own musical preferences, but then there are ideological splits, the forensic records society fractures and different groups form, with alternative musical criteria. Nothing is ever quite as it seems in Magnus Mills’ novels though and, despite the matter of fact, plain deadpan style, strange things happen in the Half Moon pub, time seems to pass unevenly, the musical selections are eclectic to say the least and the undercurrents at play between the main characters are difficult to fathom. Ultimately, the forensics are very much left to the reader but it is nevertheless a highly entertaining and delightfully strange story.

(This brief review originally appeared in THE on 5 July.)

4.5 stars





Magnetic field

20 05 2017

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills

 

‘The field looks completely wrong now,’ she announced, one blustery afternoon. ‘It’s all gone out of balance’

The Great Field lies in the bend of a broad, meandering river. Bounded on three sides by water, on the fourth side it dwindles gradually into wilderness. A handful of tents are scattered far and wide across its immensity. Their flags flutter in the warm breeze, rich with the promise of halcyon days.

But more and more people are setting up camp in the lush pastures and with each new arrival life becomes a little more complicated. And when a large and disciplined group arrive from across the river emotions run so high that even a surplus of milk pudding can’t soothe ruffled feathers. Change is coming; change that threatens the delicate balance of power in the Great Field.

 

Strange, surreal, dark and deadpan, this is absolutely pitch perfect and a classic Magnus Mills work. It might be allegorical but then again it might not be. Peculiarly outstanding in many strange parts.

four stars





To the ends of the earth

17 09 2016

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills

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It is the beginning of the century, and two teams of explorers are racing across a cold, windswept, deserted land to reach the furthest point from civilisation. It is, they find, ‘an awfully long way’. Johns and his men take the western route, along a rocky scree, gossiping, bickering and grumbling as they go. Meanwhile, Tostig’s men make their way along the dry riverbed in the east – they are fewer, with just five men and ten mules, and better organised than their rivals. But with Johns’ team keeping apace in the distance, the race is on to reach the Agreed Furthest Point …

As precise and strange as Mills’ other outstanding novels this novel is a really dark, funny and deeply disturbing read. The distinctively direct narrative works perfectly and builds towards a striking conclusion.

4.5 stars





Fencing fun

22 09 2010

The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills

From the Amazon Review:

Building high-tension fencing with a couple of rural Scots louts–what could be a more likely premise for a black comedy? An eerie noir fable told in a grim, deadpan voice, The Restraint of Beasts tells the story of an English fence-builder promoted to foreman over two under-motivated labourers. They’ve just been sent out to fix a badly done fence when events go horribly awry–and not for the last time either. For the rest of the novel, as his charges drink, loaf and pound the occasional fence-post, events go badly amiss over and over again. In a sense, that’s all you can truly rely on in Mills’s fictional world…

The team travels south to England, where they live out of a damp, cold caravan in the town of Upper Bowland. Here they soon find themselves at loggerheads with the sinister Hall brothers, whose business enterprises seem to combine fencing, butchering, sausage-making and the mysterious “school dinners”. “We committed no end of good deeds!” cries John Hall. “Yet still we lost the school dinners! Always the authorities laying down some new requirement, one things after another! This time is seems we must provide more living space. Very well! If that’s the way they want it, we’ll go on building fences for ever if necessary! We’ll build pens and compounds and enclosures! And we’ll make sure we never lose them again!”

Written in Mills’ straightforward but thoroughly engaging style this is an extremely entertaining and at times dark tale about the most improbable of professions. A really good read and highly recommended.





Headway

5 11 2009

The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills

Maintenance

‘It’s a matter of procedure,’ I explained. ‘Strictly for the record. You don’t get sacked from this job unless you did what Thompson did.’ ‘What did he do then?’ ‘We never mention it.’ In Magnus Mills’ brilliant short novel he transports us into the bizarre world of the bus drivers who take us to work, to the supermarket, to the match and home again. It is a strange but all too real universe in which ‘the timetable’ and ‘maintenance of headway’ are sacred, but where the routes can change with the click of an inspector’s fingers and the helpless passengers are secondary. The journey from the southern outpost to the arch, the circus and the cross will seem as familiar as your regular route, but then Magnus Mills shows you the almost religious fervour which lies behind it, and how it is fine to be a little bit late but utterly unforgivable to be a moment early.

Very reminiscent of The Scheme for Full Employment but none the worse for that. Mills writes in a cool, deadpan style and delivers a surreal tale of the strange life on the buses which is compellingly realised and never dull.

3 star





The Scheme

30 09 2009

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills

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‘Life on The Scheme is like being in a great big feather bed. You’ve got your full uniform provided, winter and summer, subsidized cups of tea and sandwiches, the opportunity for a quiet doze in a lay-by while you wait to clock off, and a generous weekly wage. And all you’ve got to do is turn up for work every day! But it could all so easily come to an end. Already, workers are beginning to divide into opposing camps, and a new superintendent has arrived, intent on sending The Scheme the way of ‘all those other failed social experiments, like public transport, school dinners and municipal orchestras’.

A short, odd and really rather entertaining novel.

3 star








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