Magazine article The Spectator

God Bless the Work

Magazine article The Spectator

God Bless the Work

Article excerpt

PERFECT TENSE

by Michael Bracewell

Cape, L10, pp. 168

There is a scene in an earlier novel by Michael Bracewell where a young man enters an office building in order to attend an interview. As he walks through the lobby the receptionist looks him up and down before, as he passes, giving a quiet sniff. Years later, in Bracewell's compelling new novel, Perfect Tense, it is almost as if the same character - older, wiser, yet far more vulnerable, and buckling under the dead weight of experience - may finally be asked to leave the building. This is a possibility about which the novel's unnamed narrator has mixed feelings:

Work is a blessing. I keep repeating this to myself whenever I feel like chucking the whole thing in. Because worse, far worse, is not working ... Of course, I'm thinking of people with jobs like mine: the stragglers in the race of an office career, disqualified from the fast track by our fundamental lack of interest in winning.

It is this dichotomy, the internal struggle between the detestation of, and need for, the office that preoccupies the narrator. It is a preoccupation matched by his concern that he has reached `critical mass'; that, like a cup full to the brim, one more experience will cause him to spill over. (Whereas a colleague has `Second Is Nowhere' pinned to her workstation, `Panic and Emptiness', he suspects, would be a more appropriate sign for his own resented space.)

Perfect Tense is a philosophical work as much as it is a novel. It is the story of one day in the life of an anonymous, middleaged man - educated, disappointed and droll - whose voice slides between the poetic, the confessional and the comically mundane. As the narrator recounts one particular day (a day in which he fears he has lost the mug-like opportunity for it to be the first one of the rest of his life), he slips in and out of memories and digressions in a voice which is an extraordinary convergence of Virginia Woolf and Reginald Perrin. …

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