Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
It was in my first box from A Box of Stories which I subscribe to as a way of finding books that I might never have otherwise read. It’s the first book I’ve read from my first box of mixed fiction, and I picked it up because the cover quotes said it was funny. Spoiler alert – I didn’t agree.
Review copy or purchase
What it’s about
(I don’t usually copy the cover blurb in this section, but I’m going to do so here because my description of what it’s about doesn’t match up with the way it’s described on the cover.)
Jack Bick knows he needs to change. The cans of lager in the work toilets, blackouts and malevolent cockatoos that haunt his days are a long way from the luxury lifestyles he profiles for the magazine he works at.
When a giant, black plume of smoke appears on the London horizon, and a major scoop that might save his job falls into his lap, Jack spots a glimmer of light in the rising smog. He dives head first into a chaotic odyssey across a city full of real estate tycoons, literary fakes, late night muggings and conspiracy theories. Jack seeks salvation through exposing the secrets of others, but will he be able to hide his own?
I’ll start with my take on what the book is about –
Jack Bick is in the process of self-destructing. An alcoholic who is barely continuing to function in his day-to-day life, he’s turning up late and taking conspicuously long lunches while sipping lager from his aluminium water bottle. At least one of his colleagues at the trendy magazine he works for appears to be keeping tabs on his lapses of performance, and he’s just waiting to be called out.
The quotes on the book jacket describe this as a funny book. I don’t agree. I find it desperately sad. I found it harder to read as a result, because I constantly felt that I was missing something. It was a bit like being handed a packet of crisps and being told they’re ready salted, only to eat one and taste salt and vinegar. The disconnect between what I was being told was between the pages, and what I actually found was quite unsettling. It is well-written, which is why I kept reading until the end, but as I wasn’t sure if the author was intending us to laugh at Jack for his misfortunes or find fun in the situations he ends up in because of his lack of control over his own life, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed reading it.
Jack is clearly on the verge of a breakdown. Living from one drink to the next and barely able to maintain the pretence of caring about anything else. He needs help. He’s hallucinating cockatoos and plumes of smoke, and caught up in the machinations of a tech guru who is using Jack for his own ends. Jack’s attempt to hang on to his job, knowing that if he’s fired he has no chance of withstanding the call of the bottle (or in his case cans of lager), make him very vulnerable to being manipulated by the tech guru and another writer.
Strange adventures across London chasing smoke, a plot to get mugged or mug someone else for an authentic urban experience, and cockatoos which turn out to be plastic bags, street art and other innocent things are all symptoms of Jack’s increasingly poor sense of judgement and drink-addled mind. A strange, and at times unsettling, story, but not a funny one.