Thursday's book
Ellen Abrahams has made it. Unlike the other candidates up for a choice producer's job on the current affairs show FastNews, she's able to explain the exchange rate mechanism and the inner workings of the IRA without missing a beat, or smudging her perfectly applied red matt lipstick. Most important, she knows that it's better to give the wrong answer the right way than the right answer the wrong way.

Drawing on her experiences as a producer on Newsnight, and as press officer for the LibDems, Sarah Harris's first novel about the lives of three young women about to embark on full-blown "media" careers is full of inside information about BBC boards and parliamentary committees - though the only dirt she dishes on Jeremy Paxman is that he looks at himself in lift mirrors.

The novel's second banana, Myra Felt, doesn't take job interviews seriously. Her life, like her Camden flat, overflows with unnecessary friends and empty wine bottles. It's only when reality bites and she can't afford a new bottle of peppermint foot-balm that she finally applies for a real job - as parliamentary press officer for the Pluralist Party. And from the day she sends in her CV, she lives in dread that she may be chosen.

Susan Lyttle doesn't have a degree from the right university, or the right clothes for a high-profile job. Fresh from Southport into a bedsit in Finchley, she takes the first secretarial job that comes along and passes her evenings snuggled under a duvet reading Jane Austen. But during the novel, it's Susan who undergoes the greatest transformation of all three girls, checking in her fluffy pink sweaters for a wardrobe of Agnes B and a job in publishing.

Smartly written and well observed, Harris's novel follows Ellen, Myra and Susan as they attempt to keep body and soul together along the outer reaches of the Northern Line. It's only when it comes to generating some kind of plot that the novel runs into difficulties. Although there are some brilliantly funny moments - particularly Harris's descriptions of "ideas" meetings with "young buck" producers riding their plastic chairs in a desperate jockeying for recognition - the lives of the three girls never quite come together. Myra and Susan end up sleeping with the same man, but this doesn't prove to be synergy enough to get a story going or reach any real conclusions.

Wasting Time may not be one of the best novels of twentysomething office life, but this likeable and astute satire shows its author on track for a more satisfying career in fiction than in television news.

Emma Hagestadt

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