Then We Came to the End is about how we spend our days and too many of our nights. It is about being away from friends and family, about sharing a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers we call colleagues. It is about sitting all morning next to someone you deliberately cross the road to avoid at lunchtime.
Joshua Ferris' fabulous novel is the story of your life, and mine. It is the story of our times.
©2007 Joshua Ferris; (P)2008 Isis Publishing Ltd
A Richard and Judy Book Club selection.
"Outstanding...incisive, urgent, funny, and snappily written...The comedy debut of the year." (Sunday Times)
"It's a long time since I've read a novel so painfully funny, or so absurdly true." (Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday)
"Very funny, intense and exhilarating...For the first time in fiction, it has truly captured the way we work." (The Times)
"As [Joshua Ferris] starts to tell of a world of stained grey carpets and personalised coffee mugs, a place where the characters' faied attempts to connect with their co-workers' essential humanity fuel the desultory plot, the spirits sink. Yet there is something horribly compelling about Ferris's eerily successful attempt at nailing the ways in which office life becomes the only life, where the sight of a male colleague's oddly "geisha size feet" is more familiar than a spouse's smile, and where workplace status is more important than crucial doctor's appointmnets. It is a chilling study of intimacy without love or commitment in an atmosphere of dread as one by one the workers start to get laid off." (The Sunday Times)
When I started listening to this, I really didn't know what to make of it - was it supposed to be funny? There is a certain amount of wry humour, but it is interspersed with episodes that aren't comic at all. Too many characters are introduced in too short a time, and most of them are not well depicted; I lost track of who they were. They're all fairly unpleasant people, too. There is no plot as such, just a series of anecdotes and reminiscences. I was seriously thinking about giving up, and yet - and yet....as the Sunday Times reviewer said, it was strangely compelling.
I'm so glad I did persevere, because as I got used to the style and the characters, I actually found myself starting to care - just a little bit. I wondered where on earth it was all going to lead, because as I said, there is no plot - was it all just going to tail off? But there is a lovely little punchline, that neatly answered one of the questions that had been puzzling me all the way through: who exactly is the narrator?
Don't buy this if you want a straightforward story simply told. It's bizarre! And very clever.
What made it enjoyable? The mundanity. This is a book about the boredom of the workplace and how we fill the void of it with narcissistic fantasies and gossip.
The characters here though are so petty, childish and self-interested (and perhaps that is to be expected in an Ad agenecy?) that you pray for bad things to happen to them.
If you like the idea of the subject matter I'd read/listen to David Foster Wallace's 'The Pale King' instead.
Having said that I did enjoy the utter silliness of the enterprise.
This book was recommended to me by an author, and for good reason. On the face of it a depiction of office life in an advertising agency, it deploys a very clever narrative tool to turn this deliberately dull environment into a canvass on which it paints the whole caleidoscope of life in all its tragedy, sometimes inadvertently funny, occasionally truly heartbreaking.
I loved the author's unique narrative voice, sticking mostly to the collective 'we' when depicting office life in all its shallow, tedious superficiality, with a good measure of male swagger thrown in. Then, ever so often and like branches descending from a tree, the narrator reverts to the singular form when telling us the story of an individual employee: The sacked guy who dies six months later and the traits of whom none of his colleagues can remember at the funeral, the secret fear of a seemingly invincible boss, the crazy loner who turns out to be saner than many of those who labelled him. When telling these stories, the narrative voice becomes human and compassionate. The change is so subtle that I didn't notice it at first.
This is clearly a character-driven book which made me think afresh about the strange group dynamics that turn individually reasonable, sensitive people into a dull, unreceptive and sometimes cruel mass. At the same time it manages to be highly amusing, which is why I'm giving it five stars.
I already own and read the book on first publication in hardback, but I loved it so much that I wanted it with me when travelling. Lordy, he really has worked in an agency, it shows, and he draws such fine portraits of his crazy workmates. I loved the sub-plot of the office furniture as it moves through the firm as one after the other the characters leave the building (though they don't leave the narrative). Endlessly funny and well observed, I'm on the third listening now.
I loved this book but I don't know why! I've never worked in an office environment but I can only imagine it would have an extra effect on you if you do. The humour is dark, not laugh out load but dry and you find yourself laughing at the absurdity of situations rather than any particular line. I'll stop writing as I really find it hard to describe! It's weird, interesting, funny, unusual and written in a unique style. Also I have to say the narrator is fantastic and captures everything perfectly (I assume this is down to good direction?).
I nearly didn't buy this book as, in the UK at least, it had attracted so many bad reviews. And then I thought, what the hell, why not? If nothing else, I'll learn something by it.
It quickly became clear, within a chapter or so, that this was a book of pure, unadulterated genius. It is clever, innovative, funny, touching and profound. But it is also a deeply literary novel. It is not meant to be an easy read. It is not 'office lit'. It deals with the big issues of life - death, loss, grieving and those large, thorny questions of identity. And it filters these through the context of work. What emerges is a masterpiece of understatement, a tour-de-force of oblique characterisation.
"and the Oscar for narration goes to..."
I liked the novel very much. It's alert - it doesn't seem to drag on for a single second; the "we" of the storyteller is managed with great art; it sketches great portraits of the characters, and each voice is distinct and accurate; and it's - to use a cliche - a great portrait of the times.
But the awesome thing about the novel is the narration. Ian Porter is unbelievable - I can't imagine reading the novel on paper now that I've heard his performance. He shapes each character, each situation so wonderfully that I don't think I will be able to enjoy another audiobook narration as much. Unless it's by him, of course.
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