Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative
This is a novel about a kind of journalism that no longer exists. John
Dyson and Bob Bell work for a newspaper that seems to have some literary
pretensions, never sacks anyone and would certainly have folded long
before the end of the twentieth century, let alone with the arrival of
the Internet. The two men are friends and share an office where not very
much work gets done. John is approaching middle age and has the
ambition to get on television, which he thinks will transform his life.
Bob, who is younger, eats sweets for comfort and has no ambition of any
kind; he seems destined to potter along as a third-rate journalist for
the rest of his working life. His ultimate future is probably
foreshadowed by the third member of the office, 'poor old Eddie', who
spends most of the day asleep, waking up occasionally to reminisce about
old times and long-dead journalists of his acquaintance.
Other characters include John's wife and children, living in a run-down
suburban district, and Bob's girl friend Tessa, who loves him although
he really wants to finish with her. He thinks her stupid although she is
in reality a good deal more astute in her judgements of people and
situations than he is.
There are two first-rate extended comic episodes, both involving John.
One concerns his eventual drunken appearance in a television discussion,
and the other his participation in a jolly to the Persian Gulf, courtesy
of a holiday firm called Magic Carpet, which degenerates into
alcoholic chaos. The book is an exemplification of Horace Walpole's
epigrammatic description of life as a comedy to those who think and a
tragedy to those who feel, with the emphasis on the comedy.