Twin Books, 2004. £6.50 (incl.p&p),
Available from P.O. BOX 3667, Wolverhampton, WV3 9XZ
Pbk; 95p; ISBN: 095343043X
Described on the cover as an ‘imaginative novel of ideas and action [presenting] a Christian critique of the contemporary world’, Department E is set in a fantasy Britain with many similarities to the UK in 2004. It tells the story of Mr Jones, an ordinary electrician caught in an underground explosion. Trying to escape from the rubble, he finds himself in the network of offices that are Department E. He is taken to ‘C.E’ the department’s Chief Executive, who spends days in discussion with him, without actually telling him what the Department is, or even where it is geographically, adding to Mr Jones feeling of disorientation.
Despite the use of meaningless buzz phrases and much jargon, neither Mr Jones nor the reader become any clearer about the department’s function. Gradually, anti-Christian undertones become apparent, and there is an emphasis on ‘individual fulfillment’ (self gratification?) which is exemplified by CE’s violent encounter with a prostitute.
Jones eventually escapes, ending up in an organisation called ‘Liberty’, which initially appears more relaxed and liberal than Department E, but again the organisation’s objectives are just as incomprehensible, and again, Jones has a ‘minder’ – this time it is Clive Eldridge (CE again!) who exercises similar control over Jones, but in a more liberal setting. Once again, Jones escapes with the help of a lady called Silverthorne, a secretary who turns out to be working against Department E rather than for it. After a dash round Britain, by narrow boat and car, the story comes to its conclusion in a large house by the Welsh coast. It ends on a note of optimism, with assurances of ultimate goodness in an evil world.
This book didn’t read like a novel – there is a lot of dialogue, particularly in the first half. Even the cover looks more like that of a non-fiction work, showing a cross section of an onion with all its layers – the significance of this is explained in the book. However, if it is read as ‘critique’, it is unusual, stimulating and thought provoking.
Contributed by Eleanor Nannestad, BA, MCLIP Community Librarian, Information and Local Studies, at Lincoln Central Library and a former Eastern regional rep. for the Librarians’ Christian Fellowship.