Friday, July 1, 2011

e - Matt Beaumont - Epistolary Novel Rebooted

The Epistolary format has been used as narrative method in many novels. Some others have parts of it written as letters. John Barth went as far as making the characters of his previous novel write letters to each other in his  novel 'Letters'. But times have changed and so the epistolary novel too had to be changed. That's what matt Beaumont has done with his novel 'e', which consists entirely of emails sent by the characters of the novel. Published in 2000, this is said to the first novel to be written entirely as emails.

The novel is set in a fictional advertising agency 'Miller Shanks London' which is the London branch of an international advertising agency.   It shows the inner workings of an office from the perspectives of various persons, the CEO, creative head, account head, the secretaries etc. It gives a glimpse into the infighting, backbiting, jealously that happens everywhere along with the brighter side like creativity, working as a team, people who still want to main ethics etc.  Every office has some persons whom we try to avoid like poison, we feel better working under/for say X instead of Y. But in case of this agency it's like 'pick your poison'. Why so? Well, you have the CEO, David,  who is dictatorial and more of a tyrant than your normal boss. He bullies, verbally humiliates his sub-ordinates. Would you like to be his secretary or to report to him? There is the creative director Simon , who is high on crack (valium and whatever drugs he can get) or having expensive lunch/dinner at the company's account most of the time. When he is sober enough, he plots to steal the ideas of his creative team and pass it of as his own. His is the classic case of your superior taking credit for all success and passing the failures to you.  Would you be willing to trust your creative hunches with such a guy? Then you have the head of client services, probably the person with least power of the trio, which everyone else except him seems to realize. You are an account manager and manage to bring a difficult client around and suddenly you find your head taking credit for it. What would you do? Basically the top level in the company consists of jerks to put it bluntly. 

The novels begins on the first day of the millennium with miller shanks employees working on that day too. This is because the agency is trying to get a contract for Coca cola which would be their biggest client till data. The employees themselves do not seem very keen on working that day, but the CEO has apparently overridden everyone. This is the main strand of the novel. Along with it there is the sub-plot of an impending advertising shoot in Mauritius for a client who owns a porn channel. (Busty silicon implanted gals are specifically to be taken there for the shoot). Problems crop up as the pitch for coca-cola seems to be going no where, but all the parties concerned trying to pass the buck to someone else. There is also the hilarious CEO of Miller shanks Helinski branch, who keeps sending unsolicited advice to David, who has to bear it. Meanwhile the shoot at Mauritius starts to  go awry. (Breast implants of some of the models explode, the representative from the porn channel who has gone along for the shoot, tries to get fresh with a television anchor who has come there for a holiday and which results in a major publicity scandal). Simon tries to steal the ideas from a couple of fresh graduates and pass them off as his idea for the cola pitch. This is bought to light by the art director, but David still wants to go ahead with the stolen idea. He is ultimately stopped from doing so. However the team manage to give a good pitch to coca cola and it seems like they would get the contract. Meanwhile Simon is caught on video having sex with a transgender and it becomes a viral hit on the internet. This and the act of the client at Mauritius results in the agency losing the contract. At the end, things get resolved and everyone gets their just desserts.

I have just skimmed the surface of this novel, but there is more to it. It has a seemingly endless sequence of funny incidents that narrating them would like telling about the whole novel. This is a very raunchy, lusty novel. (It apparently had a sub-title The Novel of Liars, Lunch and Lost Knickers, it should give an idea of the novel's content). Creative directors shagging she-males, copy writers getting it on with the secretaries in the creative director's room, when a prospective client is shown around the office and sees the duo in action!!!. There is also the peach of a sub-plot of David's mail to his London employees being somehow sent to the Helenski branch also. No one knows why this is happening, David evefires two system administrators because of this. Ultimately it turns out that David is a goof in using his system and the problem is because of his incorrect sending of the mails. In novels with the office as backdrop, you generally tend to see a digression from the main point. For e.g. 'Americana' also deals with existential issues of an employee, 'Then We came to the end' shows the effects of recession while working within the framework of the office novel. In 'e' there is no such digression, in the sense that the narrative never goes away from the office. We never get to know about the personal lives of the characters. The only aim of Matt seems to crunch out one crazy situation after another crazy situation. In that sense, I would say that this is pure office novel. The dialogues are extremely witty too. Matt seems to have had a rip roaring time writing this (he himself worked in advertising prior to this) and the result is a shameless, wickedly funny novel. It once again shows that good writing can be enjoyable too.

You may not remember the characters or even the events, a few months after reading the novel, but you sure will remember the good time you had reading it and would be tempted to re-read this (it happened to me). It would not be much of a miss if you give this book a skip for now, but I would suggest that you add this to your reading list for later. When you get round to it, you sure would enjoy this. 

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