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by Magnus Mills

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-42163-X
Publisher: Picador

Mills’s fourth novel (after Three to See the King, 2001) is a kind of parody of British working-class life, where truck drivers are paid to deliver unneeded auto parts for other drivers to retrieve.

Talk about the Welfare State: The blue-collar yobs who work for the Scheme not only perform no useful labor whatsoever but want to cut corners doing it. The Scheme is a large labor project made up of vans, van drivers, van parts, and van depots. The drivers report to depots at eight in the morning and receive their vans, schedules, and cargoes, which they then drop off at other depots. It may seem like work, but it’s not, really, since all those parts simply circulate and are never used or replenished—rather like the water in a shopping-mall fountain. The Scheme is much admired by the British public and held almost sacred by those who work for it, but there are problems. The workforce is badly divided, with one group (the Flat-Dayers) insisting that no driver should go home early even if he finishes his rounds before five o’clock, and another group (the Swervers) holding that allowing the drivers to head home early will encourage promptness and efficiency. And there is (by British standards) a fair amount of corruption within the ranks—supervisors who wink at drivers hauling private cargoes in exchange for a cut of the goods, and so on. The unnamed narrator is a veteran, having driven for five years, and he tries to keep out of the internal divisiveness and strife, but when the Flat-Dayers call a strike, he’s forced to make his stand. It will cost him trouble either way, not to mention a few friendships, but this is the price of being a decent Briton on the dole.

Very subtle, almost Swiftian, satire that will go over the heads of most Americans—and even those who get it aren’t likely to rupture themselves with laughter.