Is the following a compliment? I started this book at 1am last night, after coming home from a night out, quite drunk, and waiting for a scouse interloped to go to sleep on the couch. I finished it when I woke up at ten o’clock this morning, hungover, and finished it. So the book is both a) short and b) quite suited to a strange world-lag of drunkenness and hangover. Eleven is set in a Cardiff financial office, told in a series of emails between Martin Davies and various others, including a colleague, a crush, an ex, an old school friend with history, twattish co-workers, and snide management. All of those sound a bit archetypal, but in print they come off as hideously prosaic and recognisable. The twist is, today is September the 11th and for Martin, who’s already started the day writing ranting, fraying-at-the-seams email drafts to no-one, is about to come apart even further when the planes go into the twin towers.
There’s a few novels written in emails in recent years. I’ve read one and couldn’t get past the gimmick, mainly because it read like chunks of novel seperated out by email headers. It works in Eleven because this reads like an actual transcript; in fact, the liminal effect of the email headers that you frequently skip right over underlines the point of a good wedge of the novel–the pointlessness of a good wedge of the office talk. Especially when it’s thrown into sharp relief by the planes hitting the towers, a high drama nicely skewered by interspersed emails from middle management, who are apparently completely oblivious.
The back of the book describes it as The Office meets Beckett, and that’s a pretty good analogy. Less The Office in the end, more of the bleak Beckett really, redeemed only by his final stand in the last pages. Most of the characters have a underlying plot that is revealed in fragments; mostly the subtext is text by the end, which I think is probably one of the weaker elements. It becomes clear that he has had a physical relationship with an old male schoolfriend, for example, which is brilliant whilst we’re just figuring it out from snippets, but a bit emotionally hollow once the friend openly declares his love. All of this sounds a bit bleak and empty though, and it’s not: it’s funny, and it rings true of far too many people you know, and it’s one of the subtler treatments of the September 11th bombings I’ve read in fiction. Recommended.