WORK AND PLAY by Carlo Gebler


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A bleak and witless portrait of disaffected British youth, by the English author of The Eleventh Hour (1985). Gebler's flat narration (""Fergus opened the cottage door and stepped outside. The blue sky was fired with low white clouds. . ."") suits this monochrome tale of Fergus Maguire, a middle-class Dubliner who's dropped out of college against family wishes to drift on the dole. During a visit home, Fergus watches his dad nearly drown but feels powerless to help: "". . .it was almost unendurable, this mingling of concern and inactivity."" That paralyzing mix plagues Fergus--disinherited after dad dies of a heart attack--as he moves to London, takes a hollow job answering letters at a TV-station, and endures a series of disturbing events: a madman hounds him to read his paranoid autobiography; someone plants heroin in his flat; the immigrant family downstairs turns to him when they're set up upon by racists. At the same time, Fergus hangs out with arty types (including a girl who strips at a restaurant), begins an affair with sexy Jennifer, dabbles in drugs, breaks off from Jennifer--all the while pining for a bit of meaning in his life. Finally, when the immigrants' apartment is firebombed, leaving three dead, Fergus finds his orientation: at the funeral, he realizes that ""there was nothing other than his own self over which he had any influence."" A make-up with Jennifer and a reconciling letter from his mom set Fergus looking to the future, knowing that ""life would be nothing more than an extended wait"" unless he keeps in mind that ""there was only oneself making sense"" of things. Gebler writes clean prose, but to little effect: contrived and uninvolving, this minor-league Bright Lights, Big City/Less Than Zero knock-off lacks the former's urban humor and the latter's caustic edge and winds up, for the reader, much more work than play.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's