MR PHILLIPS by John Lanchester


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Following up on his successful cookbook-cum-mystery (The Debt to Pleasure, 1996), Lanchester offers an end-of-the-century

version of Mrs. Dalloway—with results as brilliantly captivating as Michael Cunningham’s were in The Hours.

Victor Phillips, married with two sons, lives in a London far different from Clarissa Dalloway’s—more populous and

polluted, more clogged with traffic, more ridden with crime—and yet a city that’s much unchanged. To show this sameness within

differences, Lanchester imitates Woolf by using the method that she (and James Joyce) made new, following his character through

a day of wandering through the city. The reader, thus, meets Mr. Phillips waking beside his wife early one Monday morning in

July, follows his thoughts in the closest—often most droll—detail as he thinks about sex on the one hand and, on the other, about

the oppressive noise of the airliners coming in overhead for landings at Heathrow. This dichotomy—life-force versus mechanized,

modern oppression of life—will accompany Mr. Phillips through the last step he takes in the book. Indeed, the reader soon enough

learns that Mr. Phillips, fiftysomething, has himself, after three decades as an accountant with the catering firm of Wilkins and

Co., been declared "redundant" and let go. This is dehumanizing news that he can’t face telling Mrs. Phillips, and so it is, dressed

for work and carrying his briefcase, that he traverses London to fill the hours. His tragicomic odyssey takes him (like Mrs.

Dalloway) through the park, where he meets not a WWI victim but a victim of another kind; he later sees a famous person; meets

his older son for lunch; visits a pornography theater; undergoes danger; experiences coincidence; has a remarkable epiphany;

returns home.

Some books—often those showing the importance of unimportant things—pale in the telling and soar in the reading.

Lanchester’s capable, knowledgeable, revelatory homage to Mrs. Woolf and Mr. Joyce (and even to Mr. Eliot’s "unreal city")

is one of them.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2000
ISBN: 0-399-14604-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2000


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