And so the days are filled...

21 January 2007

Explorers of the New Century - Magnus Mills

One of my very favourite writers is Magnus Mills. In my limited knowledge of the machinery of the literary criticism world, I reckon he is one of the most overlooked writers I know of. Although his first book, The Restraint of Beasts, was shortlisted (scroll down) for the Booker Prize in 1998, it seems to be the only one that has achieved any acclaim - a travesty in my humble opinion!

My interest in Mills was piqued when I read a review of Three To See the King in 2001. Even though I only moderately enjoyed that book, I sought out the rest of his works shortly thereafter (fortuitously my local library stocked all of them). Once I caught up on his back catalogue (except the short stories), I began to look out for any new works he published.

Mills' latest book was published in 2005 but I didn't find out about it until last week. Luckily, again, my library stocked a [pristine, unread-looking] copy, which I read over the past few days. Although it's not my favourite Mills book, it continues in his characteristic mind-bending, bordering-on-absurd vein which I have enjoyed in his previous works. While his completely straightforward writing sounds like the story could be set in any modern town, probably in the UK, containing everyday blokes as the main characters, his books always contain a little twist about half-way through that render the story timeless and placeless, always resulting in something seemingly allegorical that I chew over and savour for weeks after finishing one of his books.

This latest book, Explorers of the New Century, I particularly recommend to Aussies and others interested in convict history because it deals with the subject of Transportation (but not in any way you have read about in history books!) As with all Magnus Mills books, I can't really tell you any more of the story or else it'd be a spoiler!

Now, while we're on the subject of spoilers, what do you make of this. Here is the cover of the book:

It shows a tent, some bodies lying around on the ground, some boxes of supplies lying scattered round, and an explorer-type coming upon the scene from a boat. Usually I never pay any attention to the illustration on the cover of a book, and this time it was the same. However, about 4/5 of the way through the book, I happened to glance at the cover and, for the stage of the story I was at, the cover seemed like a probable outcome. I found myself a bit peeved with the publisher for giving away the ending of the story right there on the cover. Of course, I should have known that Magnus Mills would throw in another twist or two, and the ending of the book was completely different. In fact, the illustration on the book has absolutely no bearing on the story - it doesn't relate at all!

Was the cover designed to convey a 'boys own adventure' type feeling to the book, which, admittedly, is the overriding tone of the novel? I hate it when it seems like some artist was brought in to just make a piece of artwork that seems to 'go' with a story or title - maybe that's what happened here.

Anyway, back to clever Magnus Mills and not his publishing house. Unlike the critics, my very favourite work of his is The Scheme for Full Employment, but with the exception of Three to See The King (which is a slog) you really can't go wrong starting out with any of his books. One of his short stories is published here - why not give it a read and tell me what you think!