Thursday, 8 May 2014

‘The Situation’ – Jeff Vandermeer

Just because I want to see if I can go a day on this blog without mentioning Stella Gemmell’s ‘The City’… Damn it. Anyway…
Who here works in an office? Okay, a few of you. Who works in project management or has been a part of a project? Who here has worked on a project and slowly come to realize that senior management haven’t got a clue what they actually want to achieve (let alone how they will go about it)? Yep, me too.

Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘The Situation’ is a timely message of support to all of us in those kind of roles, isolated from any sense of normality by changing requirements and the treacherous nature of office politics. It’s okay guys, it really is. Vandermeer not only totally gets how weird and utterly senseless office life can be (and it really can be), he also shows his reader that the grass is actually a lot greener where they are right now. You may have a tough job but it could be a whole lot worse, just look at our protagonist and his attempts to negotiate an increasingly fraught and dangerous workplace; all the while trying to make a fish that swallows children as a means of educating them.

This is a re-read (because you can’t just be looking at the next new book all the time…) and while the horror of the workplace, and the surrounding city, is still very much in evidence, what really struck me this time is how Vandermeer uses weird horror to highlight underlying themes that you come across in offices all the time (paranoia and futility to name but a couple). This approach manages to serve two purposes, gently poking fun at how seriously people can take office life but (at the same time) reminding us that it can be a horrible experience being stuck in this situation and with no clear way out. I loved the imagery of an office clique taking on literal physical shape for example. We've all had jobs like that haven’t we? What you end up with then is a tale that is darkly humorous and very unsettling all at once; very much like an episode of ‘The Office’ but one where David Brent is a giant bear that just stands and glowers at you.

The terror of life in the city outside makes for a fitting backdrop to what is playing out in the company; again, Vandermeer is highlighting our fear of what life will be like if we lose our job (no matter how much we may hate it). It’s a tough life and maybe the only answer to ‘The Situation’ is to show a little love, just like our protagonist.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this story, loads and loads to think about.

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