If the mark of a good book is that you can’t put it down, then Taking Comfort by Roger Morris is a really good book.
I opened it on the train on the way to Schiphol airport, then with a few minutes to spare, I found a seat in the arrivals area and read on. When it was time for me to take my place at Arrivals 3, I kept on reading, standing by the exit, oblivious to the reunions of long-lost relatives going on around me. I even sneaked an extra page after moving to Arrivals 2, but I didn’t read it on the walk between the two. That would have been madness.
So why is Taking Comfort so unputdownable?
The book has a gripping opening, when the main character, Rob Saunders, witnesses a student throw herself under a tube train, on the way to start his new job. On impulse, he grabs the ring binder she was clutching just before her death and continues his journey.
When he gets to work, his comments about the commute from hell are brushed aside with typical office jocularity. There is something achingly familiar about the vignettes of office politics, and Rob’s faltering attempts to work out just what is expected of him in his new familiar role. He uses the wrong mug, plays with his new desk and surfs the internet when he should be working.
Over the next few days he witnesses more disturbing incidents, taking something from the scene each time. The book explores Rob’s struggle to make sense of what he’s seen and to cope in his new job.
The events are viewed from the perspective of a number of different characters with a backdrop of marketing speak. Each character has an emblem, an object that brings them comfort: a mug, a pen, a chef’s knife.
But though the marketing blurbs are repeated like a series of mantras, these objects of desire do little to protect their owners.
Roger Morris has described his book as unconventional, even experimental, but don’t let that put you off.
The book has a claustrophobic feel, and at times it is hard to be inside Rob’s head as he loses control over his increasingly bizarre life. But just as it’s becoming too much, the tempo is raised and the story hurtles towards its conclusion (this is the part where I was outside arrivals 3, gasping at what I read, and not giving a damn about the people around me who had nothing better to do than watch me).
With so many different perspectives being explored, it’s sometimes hard to work out whose point of view the chapter is examining and how important it is to the plot. They can’t all be central. Can they?
Let’s just say that the ending does not disappoint.
Taking Comfort hits the UK bookshops on 7 April 2006, one of 6 first novels published by Macmillan New Writing.