Book Review: Days by James Lovegrove

Monday's book
"If it can be sold, it will be bought, and if it can be bought, it will be sold." With this decree, Septimus Day, the piratical old patriarch of James Lovegrove's novel, took seven million hectares of wasteland and built the world's first gigastore: a shop with seven floors the seven colours of the rainbow, and 777 departments selling everything from toothpicks to tigers. Now, in these latter days, the imperial emporium is in the hands of the seven sons that Septimus directed his wife to produce, one for each day of the week.

Mungo, Chas, Wensley, Thurston, Fred, Sato and Sonny may not always agree on the interpretation of their father's edicts. Still, they rule this grandest of grand bazaars as the old man did, absolutely.

Days tells the story of a day in the store: the first day of shopping for Linda and Gordon Trivett, proud possessors of a new account; the last day of employment for Frank Hubble, disenchanted security guard; the last day of existence for one of the seven brothers. Celebrity shoppers come and go. There is a lightning sale in the Doll department, and another in Ties. The boundary dispute between Books and Computers enters its final phase.

Outside, the unnamed city rots. Beggars haunt the traffic lights. The parks are full of underage alcoholics. Beneath the opulent windows of Days, where living mannequins act out ecstatic pantomimes of consumption, the homeless and starving congregate. Elsewhere, in the suburbs, social status is measured by the grade of one's account card; the humble Aluminium, the enterprising Silver, the lordly Gold, and so on up into the celestial reaches of Platinum, Osmium and Rhodium.

The daily takings may have fallen behind those of gigastores in other lands, and the seven sons may have already sequestered the whole top floor of the building for luxurious apartments of their own. Nevertheless, Days remains a haven of prosperity and peace. The odd minor explosion and the riots known as "shopping mauls" are easy enough to contain, and shoplifters won't usually be shot unless they run away.

In a cool, measured style, Lovegrove's totalitarian allegory interprets the state of the nation as one of abject submission to a deteriorating cornucopia, a perpetual Christmas rush. Tantalised, according to Days, by the prospect of infinitely receding value at an ever greater discount, we live our lives in a struggle to grab things we don't really want in case some rival shopper gets them first. Grotesque as it is, Lovegrove's vision bears the stamp of a peculiar authority. He is the grandson of one of the founders of Bourne & Hollingsworth; and the great-nephew of the other.

(Phoenix, pounds 6.99)