Fiftysomething Victor Phillips is a senior-ish accountant with respected City firm Wilkins & Co. Or rather, he was: unbeknown to his sons, his saintly wife and his nosy suburban neighbours, Mr Phillips has lost his job, and doesn't know what to do next. So what he does do is the most sadly predictable: pretend he's still in work. On the morning of the day's events that comprise the entirety of this novel he rises as per, breakfasts as per and steps out into the city, as per. From then on, though, he embarks on a bizarre odyssey around London, doing various sad, strange or aimless things: if he's not ogling schoolgirls on buses, he's being accosted by nutters in the Tate or trying to meet TV celebs during a bank robbery.
Taken as read, the whole might sound odd: a Diary of a Next To Nobody. What saves from the book from being weirdly boring is Lanchester's skill in capturing Mr Phillips' inner voice: as the ex-accountant schleps around town he is constantly working out, for instance, how many women take their clothes off for money, or how much more likely it is one will die on any given week than win the National Lottery (about 3,000 times more likely). All this is very witty and very well done--and very much the meat of the book. If the novel is ultimately aimless, that is, of course, the point. John Lanchester has taken an average day in an averagely tragic life and made from it, if not great art, a readable, amusing and perceptive novel. --Sean Thomas
The perfect companion to Capital
, this is John Lanchester's tale of a businessman's life unraveling in a day.