Joy, By Jonathan Lee
Less funny business, please
And now, an example of working life, as seen through Jonathan Lee's new novel: "Isabel is in advertising. She exaggerates for a living. Just as a new brand of tampon is transfigured into a lifestyle choice for active mothers, a friendly pat of encouragement ... from an interested in-law becomes, to the advertising executive, a serious attempt at intercourse."
Well no, it doesn't. Such typecasting of working life was funny in the days when champagne flowed, firms offered golden handshakes and money supposedly trickled outwards from the Square Mile. Now, when job openings are shrinking at their fastest rate for three years and unemployment is edging ever-closer towards three million, things have moved on.
This makes it hard to settle into Joy. The book centres on the attempted suicide of a young lawyer who once commanded a six-figure salary and was on the cusp of promotion. So what happened? We find out through some of the closest people in her life. They include a disengaged husband; a cocky colleague (and illicit lover); her belligerent PA; a hygiene-obsessed personal trainer ... You get the idea.
As someone who worked in a legal firm for six years himself, Lee constructs office scenes easily, weaving together numerous characters and dialogues with flair. Occasionally the writing crackles. But unlike his first novel, Who is Mr Satoshi? (2010), it suffers from a lack of direction. What is left, too often, are the frothy self-obsessed concerns of the cappuccino-clutching corporate classes.
There are, among these, a few insights. For example: "In the 21st century a person's phone is the clearest window onto their soul ... their messages, their pet names, their pictures, the SIM card that is a deeper form of truth". But after a while, these observations become banal and self-involved. The real life bickering over the dividing lines between Finchley and Hampstead, and an encounter on a train with a baseball-capped William Hague, stamp this as a book for the urban elite. Excruciatingly long footnotes irritate rather than entertain.
One can't help hoping that this is one of the last in a wave of novels rooted in the New Labour boom years, in which someone's unhappiness inside the service economy makes for an entire novel. Instead, one suspects, unless it's a career in banking, characters will be grateful if they're doing anything at all.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
American film board gives gay film Love Is Strange R-rating despite no sex or violence
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians