All Quiet On The Orient Express: A Novel

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9780684871684: All Quiet On The Orient Express: A Novel
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From the author of "The Restraint of Beasts" -- hailed by Thomas Pynchon as a "comic wonder" and shortlisted for the prestigious Booker and Whitbread Prizes -- comes a novel that proves Magnus Mills to be the master of pitch-black humor.

Told with insidiously beguiling, deadpan charm, "All Quiet on the Orient Express" gives us the story of an itinerant odd-jobber -- our narrator -- watching the dregs of the summer run out in a run-down campground in England's Lake District, and waiting to set off for the East. When the owner of the campground offers him a small painting job, our hero thinks it would be rude to refuse.

One job leads to another, however, and then another, each stranger and more inscrutable than the one before. Soon he is hopelessly and hilariously enmeshed in the off-season mysteries of a placid northern community, grappling with dark forces beyond his power -- some of which hang out at the local pub.

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Review:

Magnus Mills may have single-handedly invented a new fictional genre: the Kafkaesque novel of work. First, his Booker-shortlisted The Restraint of Beasts brought to fence-building the kind of black humor found in a Coen brothers movie. Now, in All Quiet on the Orient Express, Mills turns his deadpan prose on some very odd jobs, indeed. The unnamed narrator is on holiday for a few weeks, camping in England's Lake District before beginning an extended journey to India. He sees no reason not to agree when the campground owner--the sinister Tommy Parker, who seems mainly to engage in "buying and selling"--asks him to help out with a simple chore. As this is a Magnus Mills novel, however, no chore can possibly be simple. Through error or bad luck, one task leads to another, and the narrator quickly finds himself trapped by his own passivity and a very English reluctance to cause a fuss. Soon he's doing homework for Parker's daughter, being kicked on and off the darts team at the local pub, and learning how to perform a series of menial jobs. ("Have you ever operated a circular saw?" "Driven a tractor before?" "What are you like with a hammer and nails?")

There's a lot that's strange about this little town. Where have all the females gone? Why does everyone seem to think he should take over the town milk route? Why won't the shops stock his beloved baked beans? Both the grocer and the pub are oddly eager to let him run up tabs, and there's no sign of payment from Tommy Parker. It seems, in fact, that the narrator's early suspicions have been fulfilled: "I'd inadvertently become his servant." Like the Hall brothers from The Restraint of Beasts, Parker is volatile, irrational, and all-powerful--a primitive god ruling over his own creation. As the narrator falls further and further under his sway, All Quiet on the Orient Express becomes a striking allegory of labor and capital, purgatory and judgment, and the uncanniness of manual work. --Mary Park

About the Author:

Magnus Mills was a London bus driver for a dozen years. Before that he did a number of odd jobs, some of them involving dangerous machinery. He finally stopped driving buses in 1999, after the worldwide success of The Restraint of Beasts. He lives with his wife in London.

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