Magnus Mills: All Quiet On The Orient Express

Magnus Mills: All Quiet On The Orient Express

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All Quiet On The Orient Express

Author: Magnus Mills
Publisher: Arcade
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All Quiet On The Orient Express

Author: Magnus Mills
Publisher: Arcade

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A hapless, subservient odd-jobber with vague dreams of riding the rails through India and China, the unnamed narrator in Magnus Mills' mordantly deadpan second novel, All Quiet On The Orient Express, could be a stand-in for the author, himself a former London bus driver. For that matter, he could also represent the prototypical working-class outsider or, broader still, an Everyman toiling before an inscrutable, pitiless God. But whatever its value as parable, the strength of Mills' casual, matter-of-fact storytelling is that it never overreaches for symbolic effect, staying well within the bounds of his bleak, insular universe. On holiday at a lakeside campground in northern England, the good-natured narrator agrees to extend his stay past tourist season when the site's owner, sinister taskmaster Tommy Parker, offers him a few small labors in lieu of asking for rent. As the fall wears on, one back-breaking job segues ceaselessly into another—replacing the planks on a rotted jetty, riveting corrugated sheets into a giant shed, caulking and painting seven rowboats—until he's an unwitting fixture in the odd rural community. Still, he never quite fits in with the locals. With impressive economy and wit, Mills notes the subtle ways in which he's kept at a distance, from the low-end excelsior he's served at the pub to the grocer's inexplicable refusal to stock his beloved baked beans. All Quiet On The Orient Express unfolds with a palpable sense of dread but very little incident; the first and only major turn doesn't occur until well past its halfway point. Mills is more interested in the ominous, powerful figures that surround his hero and conspire to determine his sorry lot in life. Though its title promises cross-continental adventure, the book sharpens to a bitterly ironic point, stripping one man's dreams of Asian exoticism into the dreary reality of dart matches and sour ale.

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