Posts Tagged ‘Magnus Mills’

‘The Forensic Records Society’ by Magnus Mills – A Deadpan Delight

 

‘The Forensic Records Society’ by Magnus Mills  (2017) – 182 pages

 

First of all, I adore the deadpan style of Magnus Mills and his offbeat original tongue-in-cheek approach to novels.   The setup to ‘The Forensic Records Society’ is absurd and ridiculous, and that’s just fine.

Do young people even know what vinyl records or turntables are anymore?  Have they even heard of 45s, those records that had only two songs, an A side and a B side?  At this point, vinyl records are about as obsolete as typewriters and dial phones, although there are some experts who claim that these vinyl records capture the sound quality better than the more modern methods.

‘The Forensic Records Society’ harkens back to a time when people took their music much more seriously than today.  Of course there are plenty of us old dudes left, survivors of the 1960s and !970s, who still remember the importance that was placed on music and songs in our daily lives back then and probably even remember many of the songs Mills mentions in this novel.

The original Forensic Records Society meets in a back room of the Blue Moon pub.  Members bring three songs they wish to play for the group and they take turns playing them.  At most there are only about eight members.   The rules are strict, no comments or judgments on the records; the members are there solely to listen to the songs.

What this novel is really about is a somewhat comic analysis of the social group dynamics that spring up when any new group is formed.  Soon after the Forensic Records Society begins, a competing group, the Confessional Records Society, is formed which has a charismatic leader, a stronger appeal to women, and engenders an almost religious fervor.  Later as a reaction to the strict rules of the Forensic Records Society, the Perceptive Records Society is formed which allows long-playing records as well as singles and also allows members to quote or comment on the songs. Later the spinoff New Forensic Records Society starts.  As one might expect, there is much intrigue between the members of these various competing clubs.

What Magnus Mills does in ‘The Forensic Records Society’ is create a whole new world based on this mundane silly premise of competing record clubs.  However the reader gets so caught up in the doings and goings on of these various club members as though it were an intriguing espionage or science fiction story.  I see Magnus Mills as one of the most original, down-to-earth, and creative purveyors of fiction operating today.

 

Grade :   A      

 

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‘The Maintenance of Headway’ by Magnus Mills – Driving Bus in London

‘The Maintenance of Headway’ by Magnus Mills   (2009) – 152 pages

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I remember when the first novel by Magnus Mills, ‘The Restraint of Beasts’, was published in 1998.  It was treated as one of the major literary events of the 1990s.  Magnus Mills was a diamond in the rough, not your typical novelist.  He was already 45 years old, and unlike many writers he was quite familiar with the ordinary work-a-day world.  For seven years he had a job building fences and later he worked as a bus driver.  ‘Restraint’ was a tragicomic deadpan novel about putting up fences for a Scottish company.  It was shortlisted for the Booker and the Whitebread, and it won the McKittrick Prize.   Thomas Pynchon called ‘Restraint’ “a demented deadpan comic wonder”.  Of course I read it and enjoyed it immensely.

Now it is eighteen years later, and Mills has published eight novels and three short story collections.  The press hoopla over Magnus Mills has stopped as well as the major awards.

‘The Maintenance of Headway’ was just published in the United States although it was first published in Great Britain in 2009.   Bus driving in London is the subject of ‘Maintenance’ as Mills continues his investigation of the world of everyday work.

More than anything, ‘The Maintenance of Headway’ is about the philosophy of running buses.  Of course it is a bad thing for a bus to be late.  The passengers who get on are upset and angry about getting to work late.  The bus will be packed with people, and it takes a lot of time loading and unloading all of them, so the bus will get even further behind schedule.

“He had plainly fallen victim to the Law of Cumulative Lateness: late buses always carried more passengers; therefore once a bus was late it could only become later still.  Now, it seemed, his lateness was compounded beyond redemption.” 

A lot of bus drivers realize that the job goes a lot smoother if they run a few minutes ahead of schedule.  There will be fewer people at the bus stops since the previous bus just picked them up, so there is no interference to a quick ride.  However from the bus company management perspective being early is just as bad as being late.  Thus you have a lot of irate riders who get to the bus stop on time only to find their bus has already been there and gone.    The bus company hires inspectors to nab drivers who are driving a few minutes ahead of schedule

“There’s no excuse for being early,”

Maintenance of headway is “the notion that a fixed interval between buses on a regular service can be attained and adhered to.”

london-bendy-bus-300x225Our narrator is one of these ‘ahead of schedule’ bus drivers.  He watches as some of his fellow bus drivers who also always ran ahead of schedule become inspectors who severely enforce the rules against running early.  As is so often the case, some of the most flagrant violators become some of the harshest enforcers.

‘The Maintenance of Headway’ is down-to-earth and contains a lot of the deadpan humor Magnus Mills is famous for.  Who cares that the other characters besides the narrator are never fully developed and are mere props for the humor?  This is a quick read and is worth the small effort it takes to finish it.

 

Grade:   B 

 

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