Paperback review: Joy, By Jonathan Lee
Lawyers: the opposite of real people
Saturday 20 July 2013
In a sleek office building at the heart of London's Square Mile, a corporate lawyer plummets 40 feet on to a marble floor. The young woman – who was saddled with the grimly ironic name of Joy – had been haunted by a tragedy in her family. But was she really suicidal? Did she jump – or was she pushed?
Jonathan Lee's second novel (after the offbeat, Tokyo-set Who is Mr Satoshi?) is a black comedy of exuberance and bite. The story unfolds via a third-person account of the events that led up to Joy's fall, interspersed with a series of monologues from friends and colleagues after the event. The reader must sort through these self-exculpatory speeches and determine the truth behind the incident.
The conceit is original, and brilliantly executed; the characters' voices – from the toffish tones of Joy's ineffectual husband, Dennis, to the complaints of her put-upon secretary, Barbara – ventriloquised with flair. There are some great lines: Joy admired Dennis "the way you might admire a well-made French film, one where everything's shot from odd angles".
The humour often has a satirical edge, as Lee – who once worked in the City – depicts the legal industry as a deviously efficient enabler of capitalist greed. Barbara puts it bluntly: "All these lawyers. They're not people. They're professionals. They're the opposite of people!"
The author loses his nerve a little at the climax, in which he forsakes ironic detachment and reaches for pathos. Nevertheless, this is the wittiest, most addictive piece of literary yuppie-bashing since Martin Amis's Money. Lee is a writer to keep an eye on.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre