This is my first review in the Summer Reading Challenge from Between the Lines.
The novel takes place in January 2009, and centres on the employees of an advertising agency, Meerkat360. The company is a menagerie of madness, power games and magnified corporate ridiculousness. Any reader who has worked in an office will recognise the employees at Meerkat360: Harvey Harvey, deranged and socially inept, and ‘so polite he replies to spam’; Liam, desperately trying to get his girlfriend back and wallowing in a pit of debt; Milton Keane, desperate to get on BB10 and ‘so totally not gay, really’; Caroline Zitter, perpetually absent due to self-improvement conferences; Ted Berry, creative director (‘Mc Ideas’), so pretentious he believes that the creative team should have a ‘hairdresser in residence’; and David ‘The Man’ Crutton, whose children are running wild, and the whole world is conspiring against him.
A lot happens, and it’s all a bit nuts. From run-of-the-mill office stationery stealing and broken spam filters, down to Margaret Thatcher perfume and rampaging coked-up pitbulls, it’s all there in E Squared. Each character (and there are many) is vibrant and well-drawn, with a very distinct personality. Each character’s individual plot line is interwoven into a complicated but amazingly easy-to-follow structure.
Like it or not, online communication is inescapable, especially in this book. E Squared by Matt Beaumont is a novel constructed entirely of modern communication forms: texts, emails, blogs and online chat. This is an original format, which is engaging and entertaining throughout, but it does have some drawbacks. The reader never sees immediate action take place, and by necessity is always ‘told’ and not ‘shown’ what has happened. The punchy and sharp nature of emails and texts means that towards the middle of the novel I felt a bit bludgeoned over the head with a computer. Although the short, punchy emails were realistic and did advance the plot, the reader in me wanted some chunky prose to get my teeth into. The blog posts were a welcome insight, and offered an opportunity to provide further insight into the characters (along with some continuous prose), but unfortunately this wasn’t used to its full potential. On the other hand, the use of emails and texts did provide an excellent insight into the minds of the characters, and the attention to detail (forgotten subject lines when emails have been rushed, for instance) was impressive.
There are some very funny moments. David Crutton and his wife refusing to communicate directly with each other, choosing instead to use their PAs as intermediaries. Harvey Harvey replying to all of his spam, terribly concerned about Comfort the Nigerian girl with millions of dollars to deposit in a UK bank account. For me, though, these subtler amusing moments were my favourites, and were occasionally overshadowed by the more outrageous events: loan shark gangsters shooting each other, the Serbian employee offering to torture potential stationery thieves for a confession, and an employee with a fear of flying being detained in Guantanamo Bay for suspected terrorism.
All in all, it was a very entertaining read, and a nice satire of modern office environments. It’s not as rib-splittingly hilarious as the blurbs on the book cover promise, but it is amusing. I would give it 7/10.