“I mean I don’t want to work in a shitty office or live in a mouldy flat for the rest of my life.” I put my hand on his thigh. “I want… something else. I’m not sure what exactly, and I know that’s no good because it’s not enough to know only what you don’t want, but I need something. Do you know what I mean?”
An unnamed narrator lives with her boyfriend, the Traffic Warden, in a town forty minutes from London and twenty from Brighton. As the novel begins, she goes for an interview at a company called Weblands for a data entry position. It’s the only place that’s given her an interview since leaving university as an English Literature graduate. She’s surprised when she gets the job.
The job’s as boring as it sounds: she works on reception answering the phone, she enters customer agreements into the database, files forms and sends post. Her work colleagues are mostly boring or irritating except Young Nathan who’s also a recent graduate and is writing a novel, and Rachel who arrives a few weeks later. She knows she’s found an ally on their first lunch break together:
We left our sandwiches on our desks and when we got outside she spun around with her arms out and said, “Oh my god, do you ever wonder what the fuck you’re doing?” She turned and caught the expression on my face and said, “What am I talking about? Of course you do.”
The narrator and the Traffic Warden live in a flat. Conversations about the neighbours and their behaviour are frequent: there’s Mini Man, his moody girlfriend and their toddler, he only comes out to smoke or work on the mini; a woman on the ground floor who has frequent visits from nurses but is never seen; Dusty and Jason who play loud music, and Mike who’s obsessed with the bins and speaks to the Traffic Warden as though the narrator’s not there.
Life is mundane and there are limited ways to liven it up:
I wrenched a trolley from the line and pushed it through the huge open doorway.
“Hey, let’s play Wife Beater.” It was an old game.
He tilted his head to look at the papers on the stand. “No.”
“Oh, go on.”
He grabbed my elbow and bellowed, his teeth close to my face. “Will-you-fucking-shut-up-you-stupid-bitch?”
I bowed my head and just caught the expression on a woman’s face before she went off to Fruit ‘n’ Veg. I knew that we would be destined to see her again, in the frozen aisle, or gazing at cheese, and she would stare at us and pity me then look away.
The real triumph of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is that Furse makes a novel about an unfulfilled, tedious, mundane life compelling. Despite the repetitive nature of the content, each time a particular place, person or idea is revisited it’s slightly different and it’s this which allows the novel a momentum and keeps the reader interested. The narrator’s perception of herself as trapped in a dreary job, living in the middle of nowhere is also a scenario that many of us will recognise.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It’s well written, oddly interesting and – ironically – a refreshing change from the norm.
Thanks to Alice Furse for the review copy.