Towards the end of Joshua Ferris’s accomplished darkly comic debut novel, we see Hank Neary, a former copywriter in an ad agency, give a reading from his first novel.
When we last saw him, Hank was busy writing a short, angry book about work. The section he reads seems very familiar: that’s because we have already encountered it earlier in Ferris’s accomplished, darkly comic debut novel, Then We Came To The End (Rs 248, Penguin).
Ferris needn’t really have tricked out his book with postmodern high jinks. His novel, set in an ad agency as the dotcom bubble bursts and layoffs begin, deals with the people who work there and is representative of every workplace.
Rather, of Every workplace. We recognise its high-stress, high-demand, high-expectation atmosphere and also the jealousies, ambitions, insecurities and odd camaraderie between people who spend so much time there every day and are often caught in the interstices of boredom, commitment and compulsion.
The novel is overlong and sometimes repetitive. But it’s worth remembering that it’s only a first book. It’s also acutely observed and insightful.
Then We Came to the End is the sort of novel you mind finishing because you have come to the end of it.