I do like a good book which embraces the average normal man or woman. In the case of `The Maintenance of Headway' the average men, and one woman, who make up the book are a group of bus drivers driving the public to and from their depot in a large unnamed city (the book heavily conjured London throughout, but that might be because I live here). That pretty much is the synopsis of this fairly short novel, and no to be honest it didn't initially grab me that it would be a brilliant work of fiction from just that synopsis. Yet it is a marvellous, witty book that you will read quicker than you could think.
There were two things that really won me over with this book, the first was the characters. There is nothing extraordinary about them, but that's what makes them so great. You can picture this bunch of men (and a woman) going about their daily grind with complete clarity, in fact if you live in a city you have probably met a lot of them. Some of them love their job, a few to the point of obsessing, others are complete jobs-worth's (calling themselves `mass transportation operatives') and others are clearly there for the cash and if they can get over time the will try their damndest to. You don't see more than their daily working lives but you don't need to through their work ethics and methods Mills leaves you with firm opinions of what sort of personalities they are.
The second thing that won me over with the book is the feeling that I have been there too. We have all waited forty minutes for a buss for four to arrive, we have all been annoyed/pleased when someone runs to get on a bus and the driver stops just as they are pulling away, we have all cursed diversions and water leaks for making us late. With this book we see it and laugh along with it. Not that the book ever becomes a caricature, more it pokes fun at the reader almost saying `you know you've done this'. The book is very simply written, its dialogue and thought but Mills doesn't need heaps of depth to make his point and make you read on, you just do.
When I learnt that Magnus Mills was actually a bus driver until he became a paid writer an initial lazy thought of `oh well, he just wrote what he knew' and yet I am sure in part that is true but it does a disservice to Mills to think its just down to that. I get the feeling Mills watches people intently and with a mixture of celebration and pessimism takes note of people, their characters and the situations they might be in, stores it, mildly tweaks it and then puts it on paper for us to enjoy occasionally admitting that this could actually be about us ourselves.