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Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine

russell wiley is out to lunch by richard hine Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine

Blurb: Russell Wiley is in deep trouble. A media executive for the failing Daily Business Chronicle, his career is teetering on the brink of collapse, and his sexless marriage is fast approaching its expiration date. With his professional and personal lives floundering, its no wonder Russell is distracted, unhappy, and losing faith in himself. Making matters worse are his scheming boss, a hot-shot new consultant determined to see Russell ousted, and the beguiling colleague whose mere presence has a disconcerting effect on Russells starved libido. Disaster seems imminent.and thats before he makes a careless mistake that could cost the paper millions. Russell realizes he must take drastic action if he is going to salvage his career, his love life, and what little remains of his self-respect. Sardonic, edgy, and true to life, this gripping novel offers an insiders view into a newspapers inner sanctum and the people who oil the wheels of this increasingly outdated machine.


Its interesting, or perhaps telling, that the workplace plays such a minor role in literature. Given that most of us spend perhaps a third of our lives at our place of work, it really does seem that our daily labour is rather underrepresented in the literary canonunless, of course, were talking about law enforcement, an area from which authors have longed derived all sorts of perverse writerly pleasure, or some sort of consulting or creative role to which authors need only to allude rather than paint in any detail. But even when work is touched on in a novel, its frequently used as an excuse to drag certain characters away for large and anonymous swaths of time during which other characters can get up to far more interesting shenanigans. Extended depictions of work in and of itself have tended to be scant.'There are, however, some exceptions that come to mind, but interestingly almost all of them seem to deal with work in a scathing, satirical manner that one can only hope resulted in some sort of catharsis for the writer. Bright Lights, Big City looms large on the relevant horizon, as does the play'Glengarry Glen Ross (Hollywood-ised into a rather good film starring Al Pacino) and Australian author Max Barrys Company, which I reviewed recently (see my review). Indeed, given the'increasingly unstable and turbulent nature of employment, I wouldnt be surprised to see a plethora of such novels hitting the shelves.

Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch is one of these, and I must say that given the rather manic-depressive state of both publishing and general commerce at the moment, its quite a timely release.

Russell Wileys daily existence is an endurance race, but rather than being the type of race that ends with some sort of fulfilling achievement and gratuitous air-punching, its the sort designed by a sadist with a Pavlovian bent and that is rather lacking in comprehensible goals or rewards. The unfortunate Russell works as a sales director in that most arcane of industries, the print news media, and this book explicates what happens in the car crash-like aftermath of corporate incompetence colliding head on with employee indifference.

With his staid and stodgy publication collapsing under the weight of its own irrelevance in this googlified world, Russell is the embodiment of the classic image of a duck treading water: unruffled countenance up top, and madly flailing feet beneath. He is a sort of workplace cipher, working to break the unassailable codes of workplace conduct and somehow transform them into something useful and logical. Russell has managed this quietly seething existence for some years now, watching with laconic stoicism as business proposals are accepted based on the strength of their accompanying acronym, and as staff are promoted, demoted, or shunted aside depending on the phase of the moon.

But this awkward status quo, this jittering bubble in a teetering spirit level, is beginning to falter, and so is Russells careful facade. It has been a double-digit number of days since he last had sex with his wife, and the reasons for this are playing on his mindperhaps in part to excuse him for his fantasies about workplace colleague Kelly; he is being hassled by a upstart MBA graduate whose ability to highlight and print a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet represents the epitome of his skills (albeit one that will garner awe in most workplaces, where admin staff and CEOs alike struggle to resize a spreadsheet to fit 'on to a single page); and his boss appears to be making hiring and firing decisions by consulting with a random number generator.

Russells response to this impending crisis? To become that most legendary of office employees: a unicorn. That is, a rare, sought-after breed that is impossible to find in the office environment. Russell diverts his phones to each other, deals with his staff in a similar fashion, and spends his days dining on syrup-infused Starbucks coffee and leaking scandalous factoids to an anarcho-commerce friend who runs an underground newspaper. Russells insouciant fiffling, however, rather joltingly hits a speedhump when he finds out that his own efforts to colour code an Excel spreadsheet have resulted in an accounting error that has robbed his department of the not-so-trifling sum of ten million dollars. In practice, this means that his department has approximately minus ten million dollars with which to launch the new print magazine upon which his dinosaur of a company is staking its bets. All of them.

It would be a little crude of me to give away the ending of the book, but I have to admit I didnt feel that it quite gel with the rest of the narrative. While it does bear the hallmarks of Hines heretofore snarky and incisive tone, and does have a glorious sense of irreverence that does appear to illustrate the uncalculated madness upon which publishing, and commerce more generally, seems to draw as its major sustenance, things do feel a little too neat and glossy, and the denouement feels rushed, detracting rather from quite a strong lead up. There are other elements, too, that I felt work against from the believability of the narrative as a whole: Russells reaction to his wifes departure is barely touched upon, and given that his major interactions with her throughout the book have all been precipitated by his deprived libido, one cant help but feel that she is little more than a sex-giving object in Russells life. His wifes character thus falls somewhat flat, as do many of the others in the book: one cant help but feel that they have been included more for their ability to illustrate a particular type of workplace personality than out of any real narrative need.

In all, though, Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch is a witty read that readers will zip through in a mere few hours. And if youve any experience with the publishing industry, or even just any white collar workplace, youll no doubt find yourself nodding along as Hine teases out and skewers, rather like a butterfly on a corkboard display, the various confused inanities of the office hivemind and its flippantly anonymous directors.

Rating: star Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hinestar Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hinestar Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hineblankstar Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hineblankstar Review: Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine


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