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.
Arts & Ents blogs
Under The Skin, film review: Scarlett Johansson is full-blooded as femme fatale alien
Doctor Who: Keeley Hawes to star alongside Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman
Best films on Netflix: 32 movies that will put an end to your scrolling
Boy George: Bad karma
Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
The rise of Ukip: Study warns Labour that Eurosceptic party's electoral base now 'more working class than any of the main parties'
- 1 Is your name now 'banned' in Saudi Arabia?
- 2 Tony Benn meets Ali G: Watch Labour veteran burn Sacha Baron Cohen
- 3 Women do experience two different types of orgasm, study reveals
- 4 Istanbul protesters take 'Ellen selfie' from the back of a police van
- 5 Lady Gaga has struggled with eating disorders in the past, so it's indefensible that she's glamourising bulimia in her SXSW set