Eight Minutes Idle, by Matt Thorne

Dan lives in flat with his father and has a dead-end job working in a call-centre. When his father is knocked down in a road accident and has to stay in hospital, Dan's financial situation means that he has to move out of the flat and live in the office. But he also finds that his father has a coterie of female friends who all seem to be know about Dan.

This seems to belong in the self-deprecatory male confessional genre, with Dan admitting to having rather unsavoury habits and desires, although you don't get the feel that he particularly dislikes himself, unlike Tim Lott for example: it's more a device to lend the narrative a sense of honesty, in that if he's not holding back details of the unpleasant stuff, then we can trust that it's safe to believe the rest.

I'm not really sure what to make of the book as a whole: it's a bit like Microserfs in its description of office life, and there are some interesting musings on how the whole call-centre setup fits into today's society, but the story had a surreal feel to it. The underlying sense was one of paranoia: Dan's father's friends all seem to organising themselves to take care of him, and when he starts going out with Alice, it turns out that not only is Alice related to one of the friends, but also that someone else that Dan knows is Alice's mother. It feels that Dan is some kind of experimental rat who is being watched over (albeit benignly) by a co-operating network of people, members of which he occasionally meets.

Contributing to the dream-like feel, some of Dan's own actions are a bit weird, such as trying to keep a cat in the roof-space of his office, and ignoring a dead body which he finds in his flat. It's not so much that the descriptions of these episodes are surreal, but that they're not really explained. His company is variously referred to as "Quick Kall" or "Quick Call" - perhaps this is just a mis-print, but it contributes to the sense that it's not a reliable reality that's being described.

One thing that was impressive was that someone in the office wrote spoof first-person diaries describing the inner thoughts of their colleagues. When Dan gets to read one that's written "by" him, the writing style is similar enough to his own, and the events described are close enough to "reality", that you start to wonder about how much the narrative proper is fabricated. In fact much of the second half of the book, in which at least three women throw themselves at Dan, reads a bit like a male sex fantasy.

Perhaps there's some metaphor that I missed, because the book certainly didn't end with a very neat conclusion: perhaps it's more than just a book you'd expect to have been written by a bored call-centre employee who's got fantasies about his female boss. But it was enjoyable and readable, and would be worth looking for more by the author.

Completed : 22-Oct-2004

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