Despite its rather puzzling title, this is a generally solidly constructed book, and a rather satisfying read. Mr Szalay's central character, Paul is a man on the edge; a seller of worthless ads in uncirculated magazines and a functional alcoholic, it is clear that something in his life is going to give. The characterisation is deftly handled, even if Mr Szalay doesn't entirely avoid slipping in a little of the sensibility of the author to the worldview of his central character. Still such leakage is probably inevitable, so this is the merest quibble.
The self absorption and despair is very nicely handled. His use of smoking on every possible occasion is superb, suggesting both the isolation of Paul, his entrapment in his situation, and a sort of hazy feeling that hangs over the entire work.
While this is primarily a novel about psychological breakdown, it doesn't compromise on narrative drive. We are drawn into Paul's very pedestrian world of work, his down at heel suburbian life, his rather tenuous relationships with even his closest family. The pace and intensity of the first two hundred pages, give way to a somewhat gentler second half in the novel, as Paul begins to rebuild his life. Anyone who has done the sort of mind numbing work that the author describes, or has been in Paul's situation, will admire the perceptive way in which the character's crisis is described.
All in all this is an excellent first novel and deserves a wide readership.