I'd read the synopsis of this novel before and thought it sounded like a bit of a thriller. Hence the hook for a normally genre focused reader...
And so it is a bit of a thriller in type, but it's also more than that. It's more literary than the crime thriller genre due to its marketing (based on originality) more than anything else, but also due to the style of its writing. As noted in various sessions at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival this year: good innovative crime writing pushes boundaries. Timing aside, if anyone had actually read and chosen to take notice of "Taking Comfort", they'd have read a novel that wasn't crime per se, but one that pushed the boundaries, just like those others that featured in 2006.
In a nutshell: Rob Saunders is on his way to start a new job with a corporate insurance giant in the City when he is an observer to the suicide of a Japanese student on the Northern tube line. As she jumps, she drops a Snoopy ring binder onto the platform and Saunders picks it up, finally placing it in the safe haven of his own new briefcase, the leather "Di Beradino classic". But the observation of this woman's suicide, and a memento taken from the incident is just the start - Saunders faces a couple of days or more of tragedy and disaster, in which he feels compelled to take another memento, and another... He is merely an observer. The tragedy and disaster are theirs, until Rob becomes a reluctant party to all that unfolds...
I have not read a book like this in a long time. It really is original. Every chapter is an individual "scene" and the key way of getting to know the main character within that scene is through the product they embrace and what it means to them, as explicitly told. As Rob himself, the main protagonist of the novel is a marketing man, the focus is on marketing, so we get the short spiel that accompanies each of the products in the market place. Then, we get to understand what the product means to the holder and how it brings them comfort, all alongside a scene that moves the plot forward.
Pace is assured and catalysed by the Golf GTi presence of the present tense (a product that does not feature - that's just my analogy).
Rob appears to be in a stage of mental meltdown, observing all kinds of crime and bad things within a short period. Some may question this and think "coincidence" or "contrived", but I didn't. Personally, I amended the "rule of three" to "rule of five" some time ago. Bad things don't necessarily come in threes. You may be lucky and have the odd one or two. You may also amend your thoughts on the matter, as I did.
So, I was open to the set of circumstances that led Rob to his breakdown and I kept reading, eagerly anticipating, but not guessing the dénouement, which ultimately came as a shock.
In conclusion - this is a damn good read, for a few other reasons as well. (More later.)
Those who hate the mention of designers and "product placement" in their fiction reading will need to "suspend" their sensibilities if they choose to read this novel. What they hate is the beauty and originality of this novel; but I urge them to get past the labels and see them as Morris sees them in this novel - a source of comf0rt for some, but not others.
So what can this novel bring that others don't?
- Morris gives great insight into London living here. If you want to know what it is like to be a tube commuter and work in the City, this is your book, even down to how lunch is typically experienced.
- School leavers and university graduates are inundated with corporate brochures that tell them what a wonderful career they can have with "said" firm/company. This is true to an extent - they may have some work experience, but it is unlikely to be in the sort of company they aspire to join for the longer term. To work through a blissful naivety, I suggest that Morris's novel "Taking Comfort" should be required reading for those about to embark on a corporate career. I have read nothing that says so much about the corporate world; its politics; the politics of ambition; the day to day grind; the experience of the "newbie"; the impact of "first impressions" - than this.
This is a very good novel on many counts.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to reminisce about the Nobo Brainstormer Flipchart Pad.