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All Quiet on the Orient Express [Paperback]

Magnus Mills
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 July 2000

Innocence, experience and comedy in Cumbria

He’s a bit of a handyman. Or, at least, so Mr Parker seems to think. No matter, he’ll soon be on that train east to India from these wet lakeland fells. Just as soon as he’s finished that little job Mr Parker asked him to do.

It wasn’t much of a holiday anyway. As the tourists trickled away from the campsite, so did the sunshine, and the hot water, and the provisions at the local shop, and even the good beer. Still, there seemed to be plenty of work to take his mind off these minor disappintments – as much as he cared to do, in fact, even homework. And payment could be discussed later. Meanwhile, he was really beginning to fit in, to become one of the local fixtures, down the pub, on the farm, on the lake. Maybe that trip east could wait?

In this cautionary tale of labour and capital, of innocence and experience, Magnus Mills takes us back to the kind of terrain he patrolled so notably in The Restraint of Beasts – rural circuits where neither cash nor unemployment are much prized – and makes it conclusively his own turf.

Frequently Bought Together

All Quiet on the Orient Express + The Restraint of Beasts + The Scheme for Full Employment: reissued
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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (3 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006551858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006551850
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 11.1 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 993,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Magnus Mills may have single-handedly invented a new fictional genre: the Kafkaesque novel of work. First, his Booker-shortlisted The Restraint of Beasts brought to fence building the kind of black humour found in a Coen brothers movie. Now, in All Quiet on the Orient Express, Mills turns his deadpan prose on some very odd jobs indeed. The unnamed narrator is on holiday for a few weeks, camping in the Lake District before beginning an extended journey to India. He sees no reason not to agree when the campground owner--the sinister Tommy Parker, who seems mainly to engage in "buying and selling"--asks him to help out with a simple chore. As this is a Magnus Mills novel, however, no chore can possibly be simple. Through error or bad luck, one task leads to another and the narrator quickly finds himself trapped by his own passivity and a very English reluctance to cause a fuss. Soon he's doing homework for Parker's daughter, being kicked on and off the darts team at the local pub and learning how to perform a series of menial jobs. ("Have you ever operated a circular saw?" "Driven a tractor before?" "What are you like with a hammer and nails?")

There's a lot that's strange about this little town. Where have all the females gone? Why does everyone seem to think he should take over the town milk route? Why won't the shops stock his beloved baked beans? Both the grocer and the pub are oddly eager to let him run up tabs and there's no sign of payment from Tommy Parker. It seems, in fact, that the narrator's early suspicions have been fulfilled: "I'd inadvertently become his servant." Like the Hall brothers from The Restraint of Beasts, Parker is volatile, irrational and all-powerful--a primitive god ruling over his own creation. As the narrator falls further and further under his sway, All Quiet on the Orient Express becomes a striking allegory of labour and capital, purgatory and judgement, and the uncanniness of manual work. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


‘Absorbing, darkly worrying and very, very funny’
The Times

‘Mills is a master of the cliffhanger and can make even the most deadpan behaviour compelling and funny… A deliciously sly comic fable.’
Financial Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mad as a badger, and all the better for it... 28 May 2000
By A Customer
I don't know how he does it, but Magnus Mills captures the dull emptiness of the unexamined life without turning the reader off. This book might be hard going for the first few pages but before long you'll be purring with pleasure even if you don't know why. A guy plans to motorcycle to India but ends up playing darts and delivering milk instead. He buys baked beans. He'd like some biscuits but the shop is out of stock. Stuff happens, but not much. But the book grows ever more creepy and weird while never letting on that anything is happening, until you get to the end and realise how utterly strange, compelling and mad it all was. From the grim banality of the dullest lives imaginable he slowly conjures up a dark, feral bad-dream world that seems more real than life no matter what bizarre events happen. The only current writer I can compare him to is George Saunders of "Civilwarland in Bad Decline", but Mills is even more low key and deadpan, creating delicious madness from the most unpromising material imaginable.
It's a rare book that leaves you both very satisfied and thinking "what the ****ing hell was that all about?" And this is it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All Quiet 13 May 2006
It certainly will be all quiet on the Orient Express, because the main character of this book will never get there!

Having been all ready to leave the campsite where he had spent his holiday to embark on a tour of the Far East, the unnamed narrator finds himself sticking around to help out with various tasks around the place. But this soon escalates until he is being roped in to every kind of job by the mysterious Mr. Parker (and his daughter). As more and more time passes, he finds it harder and harder to say 'no' to anything asked of him, and it becomes clear to the reader that he is stuck as the servant of the aforementioned Mr. Parker. The theme of being stuck in an allegory of manual work (which, despite the protestations of a previous reviewer, does make sense) then comes to the fore, and the reader is increasingly unnerved by the narrator's plight, and is curious as to the significance of various symbols, such as the cardboard crown. (I found the answer a bit of a disappointment). As the book draws to a close, it becomes obvious that the narrator now works on a virtually permanent basis for Mr. Parker, who wobbles on the edge of extreme anger at the mistakes of his young 'protege'.

Having praised the novel for its brilliance at conveying such a convincing allegory, however, it falls to me to say that the book does seem to constantly build up the reader's hopes only to eventually offer what I found to be a rather sudden and disappointing conclusion. But then maybe that was the point. He will never escape, so why should we be able to? As to whether you should buy it, I'd say that if you don't understand what an 'allegory of labour and capital' means, then don't! If you think you might, then go for it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd jobs for odd bods 1 May 2006
By Mr B
Expect no journeys to Eastern Europe in All Quiet on the Orient Express. I will give very little away if I say that the narrator finishing his last few days of his camping holiday in the Lakes never departs. Blessed or cursed with a dab hand for odd jobs and a good nature, the hapless holidaymaker little-by-little finds himself put to work and unable to escape the mysterious village community where he finds himself stuck. Not one for fancy descriptions, Mills instead combines a great ear for dialogue with a sly sense of humour. Both are in evidence again here. One particular highlight which springs to mind is when the local shopkeeper starts bemoaning 'the people who come in here asking for things'. These qualities buoy the tale along as the plot surrounding the lake thickens for the stranded tourist. Why is everyone so keen for him to take over Deakin's milk round? What is the significance of Bryan's cardboard crown that he inexplicably sports at all times? When will the landlord finally accept payment for his spiralling tab?

A star-off for similarities with The Restraint of Beasts storyline, this is nevertheless another page-turning, thought-provoking good'un by Mills.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lond awaited antidote to overlong epics 12 July 2001
By A Customer
What is amazing about this book is just how little of it there is. Mills doesn't waste words describing every pointless little detail, creating beautifully tight prose. Even the protagonists name is omitted - but so what? What difference does it make whether it is John or Jack or Peter or whatever? Other reviewers claim that this makes the book unevocative, shorn of individuality. Rubbish. Instead the sparse writing leaves your imagination room to create connections, giving the book a wonderfully brooding and almost surreal feel. The protagonist says 'Hi' to his landlord, but because it is so underwritten, you read in sinister undercurrents to the exchange. You are also more aware of themes and motifs, which helps set up a wonderful twist. A fantastic book, well worth buying.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tourist Trap 28 Jun 2001
If Mills is the future of British literature, then we are in very safe hands. A tale of an outsider given a chance to become one of the village's own. He takes on tasks put in front of him, lusts(quietly) for his landlord's daughter and becomes a member of the local pub's darts team. You feel throughout the book that the hero will suffer the wrath of his employer. This dormaint feeling never really rears it's head and it's because of this that you find yourself warming to the quirks of the village characters. Mills is spot on with his take on an out-of-season tourist spot. By placing the tale at the end of the season, it really brings home how a thriving village suddenly loses it's sparkle when all the money has gone home. Weird this may be but it's all the better for it. 5 stars and that's just for the paper crown.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic book... everyone should have a copy and be forced to read it
Published 1 month ago by Rebecca Downey
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read.
Although this is a one sitting read, the
story evokes duelling Deliverance,
Billy Liar and Heart of Darkness, not to mention The Wicker Man. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michele Gorse
2.0 out of 5 stars All Quiet onf the Orient Express
Bought it because I live in the Lake District and like reading fiction based around places I know. Disappointed in this. Read more
Published 5 months ago by GH23
3.0 out of 5 stars Shaggy
This is a book which is both easy to read and entertaining in a sort of afternoon television way. It describes the passing days of the hero in a friendly manner surrounded by... Read more
Published 11 months ago by M. Burville
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad - for 40p
I paid 40p for it in the Salvation Army cos I liked the title, the picture on the cover and on the back it mentioned The Restraint of Beasts which I remember finding readable but a... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr. O. Thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
An interesting insight into the recent social and community history of the village and area I now live and work in.
Published 17 months ago by Mr. D. Beattie Mrs Beattie
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite entertaining
Three and a Half Stars. Quite entertaining.

Ignoring the staggeringly over-zealous hype surrounding Mr Mills' novels, this is a mildly entertaining first-person... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Zak
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't quite put it into words, but this is a great book
I really love Magnus Mills style and this for me is my favourite so far. The thing is I can't really put my finger on what it is that draws me in, maybe the simplicity mixed with... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Manda Moo
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Enjoyable Nothingness
From its Ladybird Book cover to the last page this was an original and highly amusing novel. Just the right length for a book that does not take itself too seriously and several... Read more
Published 23 months ago by pantodame
1.0 out of 5 stars A new genre of fiction
As is claimed in the blurb, this guy has invented a new genre of fiction.

It can be summed up as follows: Short story with (minor) sting in the tale, padded, padded,... Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2011 by EGR
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