THE MAINTENANCE OF HEADWAY by Magnus Mills
Kirkus Star

THE MAINTENANCE OF HEADWAY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Set within the bureaucracy of the London bus system, Mills’ slim novel fuses whimsy with warped logic.

Bus drivers must remain committed to the Maintenance of Headway—“The notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained and adhered to”—even when it seems absurd. Consider a moment when the narrator’s bus is running early. What does he do? He disregards his current passengers and fakes engine problems. Another bus driver even stops to help him, and together, they stage an animated discussion and walk around the engine thoughtfully until a proper amount of time has passed. No real plot here—rather, a series of vignettes that demonstrate the kind of bureaucratic logic that’s warped because it’s so airtight yet so small-minded. Mills—who's been a bus driver himself—has written a fantastically odd novel, full of great details (a TV at the bus station that's been stuck on the same channel for four years) and walk-on characters (like Mrs. Barker, who creates chaos by stopping anywhere—including green traffic lights—to pick up passengers). Mills (Explorers of the New Century, 2005, etc.) avoids revealing anything personal about his characters: even his narrator lacks a life outside the all-consuming absurdity of his work. In a long novel, this might get tiresome, but Mills has written a slender book and made each sentence feel harried, peculiar. There’s bizarre logic: “The idea of curtailing bus journeys in order to provide a better bus service defied logic, but needless to say, the Board of Transport had a logic all of its own.” There’s bureaucratic pseudo-science: beyond the titular reference, there’s also the Theory of Early Running and the Law of Cumulative Lateness. It’s a comic complaint—whimsical, but pointed.

Nearly flawless in its own unassuming way.

Pub Date: May 19th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63286-036-1
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015




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