Blue Friday by Mike French (book review).
Most of us have played those games with friends where a situation is taken and the conversation follows the line ‘what if’ and gets sillier and sillier as the night progresses. In the morning, you cannot remember any of the details, only that at the time, it was hilarious. Mike French has been playing those games but he does remember what happened. The result is this book which can be best described as a surreal Science Fiction satire. While in ‘Intrusion’, Ken MacLeod took a serious and depressing view of the consequences of the Nanny State, Mike French has gone for the bizarre.
At the present time, there is an emphasis on a work-life balance urging employers not to overload their staff so that they have very little time for their families and social life. The EEC Working Hours Directive only regulates time in the workplace but doesn’t account for working from home. What if….the law insists family time is sacrosanct and there is vigorous enforcement. That is the scenario postulated in ‘Blue Friday’.
Overtime is not just banned, it is illegal. At five o’clock, all nine-to-five married couples must begin to make their way home (shift workers must adhere to their shift patterns). Charlie Heart is part of the resistance. At 5.00 precisely on the Friday before Christmas, he closes down his work station and induces the surveillance network to think he is leaving the building. Instead, he is signing on to an illegal overtime network. It is never clear what they do when working illegally. Perhaps it is the thought that they are breaking taboos that is the lure.
Unfortunately, Charlie is caught by two enforcement agents, Mr. Stone and Mr. Brittle, whose job it is to eject lingering staff from the building. They enjoy their job a bit too much. The intention is to tranquilise Charlie and put him in a taxi home. However, also in the building is a Family Protection Officer, Trent, who discovers tabs of AvodaOne in Charlie’s possession. These pills cause a mental breakdown and produce an obsession for work in those that take them.
When Charlie escapes from custody, he is shot trying to get back into his office. Trent then finds himself replacing Charlie as head of the underground overtime network. Why or how this happens is not clear. It doesn’t really matter.
This is a skewed and cynical look at a future that has taken things to extremes. It is not one that I could conceive of actually coming about, whereas MacLeod’s version is all too plausible. Mike French was having fun while writing ‘Blue Friday’ and he loads bizarre on surreal on bizarre. It is witty with the wry humour that only satire can impart and all readers will find some resonance in it. To try pulling apart the structure and point out the ways that this scenario would not work would be very ungallant. This is a book that should be taken for what it is, a comment of the idiocy of lawmakers. The only thing that can be done with a book like this is to go along for the ride and enjoy the experience.
(pub: Elsewhen Press. 190 page enlarged paperback. Price: £9.99 (UK), $15.99 (US), €11.99 (euro). ISBN: 978-1-908168-07-8)
check out website: www.elsewhen.co.uk