Socrates Adams’ debut, Everything’s Fine, concerns a man called Ian and a tube called Mildred. That’s right. A tube called Mildred. Ian is a sort of corporate drone. He works in sales. He isn’t very good. We first meet him sat across from his boss as his boss tells him off for not being very good. It has something to do with the fact that his actuals fall short of his targets. You know how it is. His boss informs him that he has a new job title: Tiny Shit Head. And a new office in the bowels of the building. His new job appears to watch numbers change on a screen. Ian is also given a plastic tube to look after. His boss tells him that the plastic tube is both a plastic tube and his baby. Periodically, his boss sends him text messages or pager messages informing him to look after Mildred. It turns out there is a camera in Mildred. There are also several cameras in Ian’s house. His boss is keeping a close eye on him.
Everything’s Fine is then a little odd. It’s written in shortish sentences and comprised of shortish sections that more often than not come from Ian’s perspective but sometimes come from Mildred’s perspective (Mildred doesn’t like Ian – Mildred could be being voiced by Ian – he does seem to have a few self-esteem issues). Like Daren King, Socrates Adams writes in that faux-naif tone that at once disarms the reader (because you feel sort of sorry for Ian, him being the dufus he is) and suggests Adams is far cannier than you would give the narrator credit for. Having seen Socrates read excerpts from the book a couple of times, I know that its humour can slay a crowd – although I think some of that humour may come from Socrates’ delivery. I also think that there are times, particularly in the early portions of the novel – when Ian becomes a sales person for a strange product called AquaVeg, for example – when an introductory sentence or a short paragraph could help to direct the reader a little better. There is occasionally an awkward obtuseness when you’re expected to make certain leaps (presumably Ian is doing online surveys for money, presumably Ian is a bit delirious from lack of food, presumably we are expected just to go with this imaginary snail) – that an odd line or two of help would offset.
But these are minor quibbles. Everything’s Fine is an unusual and unsettling book, both comic and surreal. Adorned as it is with plaudits from the great and the good, from bright up and comers like Tom Fletcher and Jenn Ashworth to Mancunian stalwarts like Nicholas Royle, I’m sure the future is assured for Mr Adams. The book also has a great cover which recalls Richard Millward’s excellent Apples.
Any Cop?: An auspicious debut and the kind of book you can rattle through in an afternoon (although you might find it stays with you a wee while after that).