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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 10 October 2005
...parting with the pennies (or exercising your local library card) for this one.
It is an excellent examination of the human condition of never being satisfied with what you have and in trying to improve and abuse a rather idyllic situation, realising it can all come to an unforeseen end (or foreseen for the reader).
Having now read a few more of Mills' books, I seek comfort in identifying with his dry look at behaviour in society through his prose. His novels are written in the first person and the reader is never given the name or gender of the character whose point of view his novels are written from, which immediately transports you into that situation.
I definitely recommend this, and other novels by the same author, to those who enjoy people-watching and human idiosyncrasies.
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on 22 May 2004
Magnus Mills must surely be one of the finest contemporary British novelists. His style is without parallel - dead-pan, some people call it, anti-hero I call it, it doesn't matter: whichever way you try to label it, it doesn't fit into the tusual novel/fable models.
"The Scheme for Full Employment" is a grand program that, well, guarantees full employment. Eight hours' worth of work for eight hours' pay. Grand days await those who join the scheme, what with an easy job that pays extremely well and has lots of benefits and perks attached to it.
The Scheme relies on a network of depots/distribution centres, with all that goes with it: a mechanical, almost flawless organisation, workers for every kind of task (from key keepers to gate guards), and, obviously, van - pardon, UniVan - drivers wheeling some kind of materials to and fro, in an never ending merry-go-round of transportation.
As the book progresses we find out that nothing happens to the merchandise being carried... it simply gets carried around from depot to depot on and off UniVans. And, most strangely and comically, that the goods are, well, UniVan parts. Now how stranger can the book get?
I won't go into more detail about the plot, but I can't resists making a couple of remarks about the book and the style. Firslty, Mills uses many symbols but is sufficiently smart and unpretentious so he doesn't leave it up to the reader to find out what those symbols are; everything is cleverly explained leaving no room for doubt. Then, there are hardly any references to the outside world; whilst the reader knows for a fact that such people do exist, the fact is that the narrator only narrates about The Scheme. As a result, we are in a kind of 1984/Brave New World age of social transformation mixed in with a lot of human talent - or lack of it.
Whilst the ending could have been a little more creative it was such a... well, dead pan ending that it is quite in keeping with the rest. I loved this book so much that now I can't wait until the next Mills' novels!
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on 3 March 2003
Readers happily familiar with Magnus Mills’ output to date will find The Scheme for Full Employment a joy for it’s more of the same – more sparse landscapes, more spare dialogue and more characters rounded only just enough to permit all manner of allegorical possibilities. Fans of Magnus Mills’ output, however, may be slightly disappointed for exactly the same reasons – it’s very similar to what we’ve grown to love, but we’re used to it now, can maybe even predict some of the twists, and may find that The Scheme for Full Employment doesn’t add anything particularly new.
The narrator—unnamed, as ever—is one cog in the machine that makes up the eponymous Scheme, driving a Univan from one depot to another delivering an unspecified product for an unspecified purpose and an unspecified wage. The scene is beautifully Mills-ian, unquestioning men at work in the company of other unquestioning men, never dwelling long enough with each other for characters to develop above a single identifiable trait; George delivers cakes as a sideline, Jonathan is in his first week, Arthur is the grumpy guardian of keys. The narrator—again typically—is also slightly marginalized: he feels uncomfortable in the communal canteen and in the early stages of the book is taken off of his regular run to make solitary timing journeys to Eden Lacey depot, prior to possible expansion of the scheme. Thus, when there is something of an uprising in his home depot (a clash of ethics between early swervers and flat-dayers) he misses it and, as ever, ‘plot’ is something that happens elsewhere.
This technique may be unique to Mills but its effects have been tried and tested in all his novels to date. Despite (or possibly because of) our narrator’s obedient reluctance to question or embellish, our imaginations run riot, trying to fill in so many gaps that we create a fiction all of our own. Then, when Mills casually drops in answers to some of our questions, we can find ourselves bowled over by nothing more than effortless simplicity. Just like we can never be sure who are the Hall Brothers in The Restraint of Beasts or why does Bryan Webb wear a cardboard crown in All Quiet on the Orient Express, it’s a long time before we figure out exactly what The Scheme is all about. Or, at least, that’s the idea.
And this is my main criticism of The Scheme for Full Employment: I never considered Mills to be running a mile ahead of me this time out; it’s all a bit obvious, and I guessed the twists. None of the characters are as bafflingly enigmatic as Michael Painter in Three to See The King, or Hodge in All Quiet, for example. None of the settings are as instantly eerie as any of the pubs in Mills’ first two novels and the parable at the heart of the story is not so provocatively told as it is in his third. What we get is almost a Mills novel by numbers: all the ingredients are there but some of the magic and mystery has evaporated, mainly through over exposure. This is still a book well worth reading; you’ll fly through it and enjoy every page, but though the breath of air Mills blows through the stuffy contemporary literature scene is not yet stale, neither is it as icy-fresh as it once was.
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on 27 February 2003
The Scheme For Full Employment is a beautifully put together little book and the usual sort of Mills fare - small pages, wide-set type and lots of dialogue so it won't take long to read. (Ace.) Normally - certainly with his last novel, Three to See the King - this speed is held in check somewhat by you stopping every few pages to think about the strange things that have just happened.

But in The Scheme for Full Employment, that doesn't happen. Despite its intentionally bewildering cast of dozens, it's all pretty simple, and one might even say one-dimensional. That one dimension is satire of work and labour - which anyone might point out that Mills has done before with more complexity in The Restraint of Beasts and All Quiet on the Orient Express.
While there are lots of nice touches - like the industry-specific slang ("early-swervers," "flat-dayers," "ten off the eight"), or the references to real labour disputes in Britain (beer and sandwiches are sent in to the delegates at one stage, the sole female character has a touch of the Thatchers to her) - the book is still really rather one-dimensional, with far fewer laughs than his other books (though the punchline at the end of chapter 6 is a corker), and precious little depth - unless he has shrouded it in in such a high distillation of simplicity that it simply passed me by.

The blurb goes thus: "The whole concept is so simple yet so perfect: men drive to and from strategically placed warehouses in Univans - identical and very serviceable vehicles - transporting replacement parts for ... Univans. Gloriously self-perpetuating, the Scheme for Full Employment is more than social engineering; it is the unified field theory of the modern working world. And what greater good can there be than honest wages for honest labour?"

Now this is one of those blurbs, like Vonnegut's Galápagos, that is tempting but awfully ill-judged. In fact the book doesn't tell us what the purpose of the Scheme is until halfway through, but any feeling of Sixth-Sense-style rug-from-undering is entirely undone by what the blurb has already told us. It's possible that, if it hadn't been explained on the cover flap, the moment of revelation of what The Scheme is (see above) - which comes halfway into the book - could have been a real Catch-22 moment. But as it is, the book can pretty well be summed up by the last paragraph, which you can read for yourself so as not to spoil the "surprise."
Incidentally the flap on the American edition also calls Mills "the acknowledged contemporary master of the working-class dystopic parable." And I gather he's also in the shortlist for world's tallest dwarf.
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on 23 October 2011
I worked as a postman many years ago and this book reminds me of those days even if it's about widget distribution (which, funnily enough, is how I earn a living now).
Beautifully written, it chronicles the ins and outs of the working class at work.
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on 15 April 2006
After coming across this book, (enticed by the picture of the van on the front of the hardback) I went on to read a few of his others, and they do tend to follow the same pattern of luring you in, then obscurely twisting things at the end, so once you've read one of his, you could say you've read 'em all. They are enjoyable though, and I had a friend who worked for the Civil Service as an electrician - his world was just like that described in the book - in fact, if you don't like the subject matter, it's probably because you run one of those schemes! Ho! Ho!

However, before you dismiss this book out of hand, let me enlighten you with a few facts. This is from a New Economics Foundation Study about what the UK imports and exports:

* In 2004, the UK exported 1,500 tonnes of fresh potatoes to Germany, and imported 1,500 tonnes of the same product from the same country

* Imported 465 tonnes of gingerbread, but exported 460 tonnes of the same produce

* Sent 10,200 tonnes of milk and cream to France, yet imported 9,900 tonnes of the dairy goods from France

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction!
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on 16 April 2014
If you know the slow but compulsive narrative of his books, you'll enjoy this one, although not as much as the Restraint of Beasts. It was another one where I read it and wondered what the point was, however I can't say I didn't enjoy the book; I did, in an odd sort of way.
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on 27 June 2005
this book will not be very interesting to anyone who has not worked in the UK. to those who have it will be a enjoyable fantasy, with a LOT OF MEANING. the book seems to be based in the 1960s; but it still has a lot of comtemporary points. the basic plot is covered in previous reviews, but the idea of a large number of people doing non productive work, courtesy of the tax payer, oblivious to the fact that their jobs are of no benefit, has a lot of relevance to the 'job creation' seen in the last few years.
i defy anyone who has worked for the NHS to read it without smiling
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on 9 September 2013
Already read a couple of books by Magnus Mills and love his slightly different take on the situation, his wonderful use of language and the slightly abstract scenarios he conjures up from his imagination and eloquently narrates inside your mind. A wonderful alternative read that will get you hooked.

Shopping experience very good with all books arriving very promptly with sufficient but not excessive packaging very soon after ordering. Very good service.
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on 26 June 2016
I take no joy in negative reviews, but frankly the balance needs to be redressed here, drastically. Sorry Mr. Mills but this is boring unimaginative twaddle. Not funny, nor clever. Looking at the positive reviews on here, it makes me think of improvised jazz: utter tedium that pretentious muppets claim that if you don't like it, you don't understand it. One review on the cover reads: "Incredibly readable, delightfully subtle." Wow, with that glowing report I should have seen this pap coming a mile off.
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