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    [T]he main concern of farmers was that their fences should be tight.  Without this the restraint of
    beasts was impossible.
        -The Restraint of Beasts

Take a forty-something, bus-driving, first time novelist; start some rumors of a huge advance; for good measure, add in a cover blurb from the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon; and you've got the recipe for a hype machine that just won't quit.  Not surprisingly, the book was nominated for both the Booker and the Whitbread, though it didn't win either.  Meanwhile, obscured in all of this is the fact that, like many a neophyte before him, Magnus Mills has a very clever idea for a novel here, but in the end doesn't really seem sure what to do with it.

The basic story is simple enough : a nameless English narrator works for a Scottish company building fences.  He's made foreman of a crew which consists of two sullen and lazy Scotsmen, Tam and Richie.  The three of them are sent to England on a special job where they spend their days laying fence, often quite lackadaisically, and their nights drinking up all their wages in local pubs.  They leave a trail of dissatisfied customers in their wake, but fortunately, a series of accidents contrives to also leave these customers quite dead, and buried, unceremoniously, beneath fence posts.

Mills presents the story in utterly straightforward fashion, the narration so affectless that the deaths are barely noticed.  Considering the author's working class origins and the monotonous existence of the work gang, it's natural to expect the story to turn into a parable about labor and exploitation, but there's nary a complaint, and he makes no effort to make the workers the least bit sympathetic.  It's all just work, drink, death, work, drink...  If they're the beasts, we'd just as soon they be restrained.

This is actually pretty funny, especially at first.  You can't help expecting the narrator to explain away the deaths, but the story just moves right on past them.  Eventually though, Mills needs to do something with the scenario he's concocted, and here he falls somewhat short.

Absent all the hype, this would be a perfectly acceptable first effort.  And I don't know that it's fair to judge the book by the expectations that extraneous factors raised.  Just forget all the award nominations and other nonsense and approach it like any other first novel and you'll enjoy it well enough.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -STORY : The Restraint of Beasts : A short story by Magnus Mills (Richmond Review)
    -ESSAY : My big break (Magnus Mills, Daily Express)
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter: 'All Quiet on the Orient Express'
    -REVIEW : Alice Cooper Concert (Magnus Mills, 11 July 1997, The Independent)
    -BOOK LIST : My favourite books (Magnus Mills, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW : with Magnus Mills (Marcia Morgado, Barcelona Review)
    -Magnus Mills (Fire and Water)
    -PROFILE : Transports of delight (MICHELLE GRIFFIN, 23 September 2001, The Age)
    -PROFILE : Top-deck ambition (September 2001, Sydney Morning Herald)
    -PROFILE :  Modest London bus driver is toast of literary world : His first novel has been nominated for Britain's premier book prize (Robert Barr, October 1998, Associated Press)
    -PROFILE : Getting on the Booker bus : The outsider on this year's Booker Prize shortlist is a bus driver. Peter Kingston caught a ride  (ZA Play)
    -PROFILE : On the Buses : Magnus Mills' route to success (Mark Campbell)
    -ESSAY : How to get a blurb from Thomas Pynchon : Start by sending him your novel -- it can't hurt. (CRAIG OFFMAN, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Big advances are often pure fiction (Mark Lawson, 24 June, 2000 , The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : A very British kind of Booker list (David Robson, 5 October 1998, booksonline)
    -ESSAY : Making book on the Booker : Snide critics, betting mania, broadcasts of unphotogenic writers hacking away at duck -- the Booker Prize ceremony may not be the Oscars, but it's as British as all get-out. (SYLVIA BROWNRIGG, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Class and prejudice (HASAN SUROOR, The Hindu)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (ANTHONY BOURDAIN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (David Bowman, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (Anne Chisholm, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (Victoria Williams , Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (Gary Marshall, Spike)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (KEVIN SULLIVAN, Straits Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (JASON ANDERSON, Eye)
    -REVIEW : of Restraint of Beasts (Eric Lorberer, City Pages)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills (William Clifford, ThickSole)
    -REVIEW : of Restraint of Beasts ( David Remy , Creative Loafing)
    -REVIEW : of Restraint of Beasts (Elizabeth Gleick, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of The Restraint of Beasts by Mangus Mills (J.M. Frank , Mindjack)
    -REVIEW : of All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills ( JAMES POLK, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills (Christopher Hart, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills (Carey Harrison, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills (Gary Marshall, Spike)
    -REVIEW : of All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills (Jesse Berrett , City Pages)
    -REVIEW : of Three to See the King by Magnus Mills (Justine Jordan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of  Three To See The King by Magnus Mills (Gary Flockhart, Scotland Online)
    -REVIEW : of Three to See the King (Janet Chimonyo , Sydney Morning Herald)
   -REVIEW: of The Scheme for Full Employment By Magnus Mills (David Kipen, SF Chronicle)
    -BOOK LIST : "This is it!"   The author of "The Blue Flower" picks five novels that rocked her world : The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills PENELOPE FITZGERALD, Salon)

Comments:

*several spoilers* Orrin, I think you missed the whole point of this novel. I read it deprived of the hype (even with low expectations), and found it simplisticly brilliant. A novel with no visible climax delivers strong punches to a laconic stance to a life cycle of conformism with key sentences. I don't know if you noticed (since you don't mention it, but maybe you didn't consider it necessary) that one of the first parts is written exactly the same in the last parts of the book (when the foreman, Tam, and Richie arrive to their workplace and proceed to accomodate their tools). That was a strange but effective resource. Also every character is subject to their own rigid habits and routines, and always find it disturbing if something deviates from them; in addition of never seem to integrate correctly the communication with other characters, always responding inaproppriately. The way Tam and Richie look forward to go to the pub, even if all they do there is sit in their places and watch silently. Donald and his almost pathological aim to perfection, and the Hall brothers with the contract of school meals. The last part of the novel raises questions "Are the Hall brothers involved in the deaths? Did they knew how they happened and intervened (like when the "fixed" hammer killed Robert)?"

*quotes made from the spanish translation of the book re-translated to english by me

"- Good. Then you wouldn't want to work driving in poles for teh rest of your life, right?

Tam looked at me and shrugged.

- I wouldn't mind."

"- Got it. All of us have our dissappointments, you know. ┬┐How do you think that I feel for losing the school meals contract?

- That's different

- No, it's not different. It's the same. Dissappointments are dissapointments. You should know by now. We leave a trace of dissapointed people on our way."

- Jorge Octavio Juarez Ramirez

- Jan-03-2007, 22:03

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