22 December 2009

Magnus Mills

Potentially the world's most famous bus driver, Magnus Mills is a British writer who was flung into literary fame upon the publication of his first novel, The Restraint Of Beasts. Restraint was published in 1998 and swiftly shortlisted for The Booker Prize as well as the Whitbread. It didn't win either, but it was nominated, nevertheless.

The Restraint Of Beasts was followed by All Quiet On The Orient Express, Three To See The King, The Scheme For Full Employment and 2005's Explorers Of The New Century. Additionally, two collections of short stories are available, Only When The Sun Shines Brightly and Once In A Blue Moon. The two books of short stories are particularly notable for their extreme shortness and diminutive size: both books are published by Acorn Book Company, an independent publisher who specialise in what are described as 'small, high-quality editions'. At less than a hundred pages each and with dimensions more akin to a pocket diary than a book of short stories, they are indeed high quality and somehow incite the reader to treat them with a strange reverence.

It may well be argued that five novels is more than enough space in which to establish a style, and one might well be impressed that the works can immediately be identified as Mills' work: compared to Kafka, occasionally mentioned by Thomas Pynchon and with an undeniably sense ofotherness caused by the close meshing of the surreal and the mundane. Manage this within two books, however, and the establishment of such a style can lead to what is described as critical acclaim.

When it comes to critical acclaim, then, the whole point appears to be this way in which Mills' takes a range of mundane, everyday situations (paying considerable homage to his working-class background) and places his character (or characters) in an unrelenting stream of peculiarity, often with a splash of wickedly dark humour to help keep the reader on track. It seems to happen in every book, and despite the enjoyment gained one is led to wonder just how hard it can be to create a slow, growing dread; a realisation that everything is reaching a point of utter horror but in a most cheerful, everyday sort of way.

It would be unfair to delve further into the plot of the novels. Each one is a masterfully-crafted affair, in which a single, significant event is almost dismissed by the reader only for the very last chapter of the novel to reveal its significance. There's a sense of everything falling apart, hinged on this single event, and a realisation, as in Kafka's work, that we struggle eternally against forces we can never truly hope to understand.

That said, they're an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon, accompanied by a mug of coffee and a packet of biscuits. Start with The Restraint Of Beasts, and continue...

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