Robert Alan Jamieson - A Day at the Office (1991)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
‘We should be free to wander,’ says the unnamed narrator early on. And that’s exactly what the author goes on to do. Pity the poor typesetter: each page of this book – a precursor to much modern experimental Scottish fiction – looks more like a work of art than a novel, with Jamieson jumping playfully in and out of italics, different fonts and size of lettering, punctuating the main text with succinct, sad mini-poems that are part interior monologue, part theory on life’s big questions. Once you adjust your brain not to expect words in a straight line across the page, this style of delivery really helps an understanding of the text, almost as if each page has been opened up to reveal the layers of meaning contained within.
Though there is a plot of sorts, the story of Ray, Helen and Douglas (told upside-down, largely) isn’t important. It hardly builds at all towards the end; instead, we get a subtle unravelling of each character. The tone is sympathetic to them all, slipping into their thoughts to explain often misguided actions, like when Ray is unsure whether to accept a flat being offered to him by a drug dealer, or when Helen walks out on her job.
There’s nothing glamorous about Jamieson’s portrayal of drug culture though, or what it’s like to be poor, unemployed and frustrated. He is unflinching in his bleak descriptions of life on the dole, remaining interesting while simply describing picking up the giro and going straight to the bookies; proof you don’t need sex or explosions to be intriguing. On the contrary, this kind of writing can be more rewarding, more truthful. And it is. A Day at the Office shows a healthy disrespect for the rules of language, but great economy with it.
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