Released: October 2014
Whether it’s Y2K, zombie swarms, or hordes of robot overlords, the fictive apocalypse has yet to reach the real world; whilst ground-breaking science strides ahead with answers to impossible questions, quite a few of us oldies still want our time travelling Deloreans, thank you very much. Indeed, vast chapters of the life promised to us through fiction simply never happen, and happy endings seem almost quaint in this day and age.
Bleak, dystopian futures and post-apocalyptic landscapes are in right now, with audiences and readers wishing away the mundane workaday world in search of challenging and complex futures that are, at least, anything but grayscale. Curious, then, that Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere should feature the tagline: “A girl. An office. The Apocalypse”. Alice Furse’s candid debut novel does not deal with a worldwide outbreak, there are no killer cyborgs, mutant bees, or world-ending winters. This is, for the story’s narrator, a much more personal cataclysm.
Set in the south of England circa 2007, Everybody Knows deals with the fallout of dreaming big and underachieving, stepping out of the university rabbit-hole and entering what responsible adults refer to as “the real world”.
The protagonist, a post-graduate in her mid-twenties, has left the eclectic world of education, falling into an inevitable and all-too-familiar net of full-time employment – her high post-uni expectations not at all met by the soulless drudgery of administrative work, and the lonely daily commute, seeing the same archetypal characters again and again. She’s stuck in a stale relationship that’s going nowhere fast, and her latest unfulfilling job – a secretarial role – is hardly the stuff of dreams. Indeed, Furse’s refreshing, unfussy prose keeps the novel grounded well within the monotonous milieu of the mundane, given all the more warmth and empathy by the narrator’s short, sudden swerves into fatalistic daydreaming.
Everybody Knows is humorous – sardonic at that – bolstered by pages of quick-fire dialogue between the narrator and her unambitious boyfriend as they banter, argue, and kick off in bed – and it is during their moments together – his actions, her thoughts and reflections – that the book seems at its most heartfelt and honest.
Furse does not challenge the stereotypes acknowledged in TV shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation – but evinces the truth therein; she doesn’t present her narrator as a martyr, or fish for the readers’ sympathy. She expresses, in comic and confident terms, the tumultuous and frustrating time in the life of a twenty-something where youthful expectations are dashed by adult reality – the uncertain future of a relationship where ambition has all but disappeared, the petty heartbreaks and disappointments of a job where the most important task is deciding what type of envelopes to order – window or non-window?
We’ve all been there, we bloody millennials; perhaps this is why the names of the narrator and her boyfriend, the Traffic Warden, are never discovered. At some stage in our lives, we imagine, we may have been them, or perhaps we are, or feel we will be. It is a prescient and familiar novel – one borne and burning in the embers of the global recession and the austere epoch; it provides a copious level of personal insight into work and home life that is rarely expressed, and rarely expressed so well. Hared, therefore, to put down. The reader will certainly feel the same way.