Accountants rarely seem to find themselves at the centre of literary attention. If they are portrayed in films, novels or plays they are usually to be found in supporting roles. This has always struck TS as rather odd. From murder mysteries, to thrillers, to domestic dramas – everyone knows the one to watch out for has always been the quiet one. Still waters and so on. But now, novelist John Lanchester has tackled this anomaly head on. He’s noticed that for a novel with a certain set of preoccupations – the grind of daily life, human beings grappling with the problem of remaining individuals in the face of overwhelming routine – the accountant should by rights be the professional of choice. The eponymous protagonist of his second novel, Mr Phillips, is an accountant with a catering company, but the day in his life in question starts just after he has been made redundant. Mr Phillips omits to tell his wife of this drama, dresses for work and spends the day wandering about London instead. Lanchester’s work has been well received in the past. He’s been described as a writer ‘whose gifts border on the demonic’. But this particular offering has been panned by Rachel Cusk in the Evening Standard. ‘Mr Phillips, which purports to detail a day in the life of a suburban accountant, tries to insure itself against failure by being one or two other things as well – a walking tour of London, and a male comic book. This desire to please clashes oddly with the novel’s conceptual basis. … The novel becomes merely the author’s attempt to describe the inside of a ping-pong ball,’ she sniffs. Taking Stock remembers when Cusk started out. Her first novel The Temporary was also about a particularly maligned breed of office animal. Perhaps she’s above all that championing-the-underdog business these days.
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