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Customer Review

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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