Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Review: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Alice Furse

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Alice FurseEverybody Knows This Is Nowhere (10 October 2014) by Alice Furse

To my mind, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere deserves to be a buzz book, one of those everyone talks about on Twitter, that gets mentioned in magazine pieces under the assumption everyone's read it. It's certainly readable and topical enough. It combines an on-trend sense of millennial ennui (I'm trying really hard not to put millennial in quotes here) with the aimless, plotless yet really rather pleasant feel of a 90s lifestyle novel, and the end result is a story that seems weirdly timeless even though most aspects of it are anchored in a particular time and place (near Brighton, and circa 2007/2008 - based on a mention of the smoking ban as a recent thing).

The narrator's never given a proper name. The only time she's referred to as anything is when her boyfriend, who similarly is only ever called 'the Traffic Warden', calls her 'Belly', a not entirely kind nickname. And nothing much happens. The narrator describes dull days in a data entry job, friendships and rivalries with colleagues, whatever's going on with her neighbours, the people she sees on the train platform every day... It might not sound like scintillating stuff, but it's so real - the voice feels completely natural - and so funny and it just feels true. Somehow, it adds up to one of the most compelling books I have read for ages. I just wanted to stick around in this character's world forever.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is likely to have the greatest appeal for those who (like me) got a degree and had no idea what to do after that, and/or were disappointed with the trajectory of their life and career post-university. The narrator believes she is destined for something better, but what? She's frustrated with her boyfriend's lack of ambition, but can't imagine being without him. There's so many great touches here - the fact that her relationship isn't a stereotypical disappointing washout, but instead is shown as loving and supportive; the dialogue between her and the Traffic Warden; the portrayal of the office characters - their personalities make them recognisable 'types' for anyone who's ever worked in an office environment, but there's also the beautifully handled moment when the narrator realises they all have depths she knows nothing of, and that they probably look at her in exactly the same way she looks at them. Perhaps they were all terrified too.

The narrator's colleague Young Nathan (not to be confused with Big Nathan, the de facto boss) is trying to write a novel, and throughout the book he gives sporadic updates on how it's going. That novel is a mirror of this one, but we only ever hear the smallest snippets about its direction. How might that story pan out? What would this little world, these people look like from an angle only slightly different?
    "What's it about?"
    He sighed.
    "Sorry, just curious."
    "It's about working in an office," he said, scuffing the toes of his shoes on the ground.
    "Does it help?" I asked.
    He blew a smoke ring. "Well, it makes me feel we're not as insignificant as I know we really are, if that's what you mean."
    "I'll take that. So tell me, what happens?"
    "I don't know yet."
    "You don't know?"
    "I'm trying to decide between two options."
    "What are they?"
    We were silent for so long I wondered if he was going to speak.
    "Well, either there'll be an apocalypse..."
    "Right."
    "Or nothing at all."
There aren't enough books like this, but that's probably because making the mundane thrilling is so much harder than it looks. Alice Furse pulls it off with aplomb.

Rating: 10/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Tumblr | Bloglovin’ | Buy: Kindle & Paperback

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