then you and some other people came to the end

Then We Came to the End was touching, and fairly accurate to my working-in-offices experience. Particularly this, towards the beginning:

We thanked each other. It was customary after every exchange. Our thanks were never disingenuous or ironic. We said thanks for getting this done so quickly, thanks for putting in so much effort. We had a meeting and when a meeting was over, we said thank you to the meeting makers for having made the meeting. Very rarely did we say anything negative or derogatory about meetings. We all knew there was a good deal of pointlessness to nearly all the meetings and in fact one meeting out of every three or four was nearly perfectly without gain or purpose but many meetings revealed the one thing that was necessary and so we attended them and afterward we thanked each other.

The two most omnipresent office culture things at a job of mine (very limitedly creative and marketing related, like in the book) are the group acknowledgment of pointlessness and the thanking each other after every seconds-long work-related exchange. The two things are part of each other, I guess: “This thing we’re doing is stupid, so I appreciate the pain your attention to it may cause you.” I’m not sure that’s quite it, but there’s some sort of relationship. That’s a kind meeting-usefulness ratio, though.

Alain de Botton recently claimed that people don’t write about their work. (Apropos of his book about work, naturally.) Ferris’ narrative “we,” on the other hand, says: “we had discovered that every agency has its frustrated copywriter whose real life was being a failed novelist working on a small, angry book about work.” Are either of these things really phenomena?

The book as a whole was great in that about a third of the way through it, the office-antics-without-reason were starting to wear–impressive to replicate, but I didn’t want to experience all the eye-gouging desires and mild amusement of office life for 400 pages–and I began to wonder if it would do something else, and then, it did. Shifted to add just enough outside-world context and plottiness to be interesting. (Although the fact that that “something else” was talking about the boss and her breast cancer and her missing her ex-boyfriend, and the way that’s called attention to as an appropriated story at the end, made me uncomfortable. It was empathetic, it problematized itself, but still.)

Never read an entire novel in first person plural before, so I don’t know if this is specific to the book or the perspective, but I imagined an unnamed character speaking on behalf of all the named ones throughout, being the “we”. Which didn’t make much literal sense, in terms of the things this person knew and their being unreferenced by the others, but the perspective pretty much defies literal sensicalness. Which Ferris addresses directly at the very end and coming up to it, in a way that would irritate if it weren’t so deft.

Next up’s Tristram Shandy, which won over The Master and Margarita and Iris Murdoch. I’m very excited. New poll to follow.


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Filed under excerpts, reading, results

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