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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Company

by
Max Barry


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Company



Title: Company
Author: Max Barry
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 336 pages
Availability: Company - US
Company - UK
Company - Canada
Company - India
Chefsache - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B- : a stab at corporate satire that falls short

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 16/3/2007 Marieke Hardy
The Economist . 9/3/2006 .
Entertainment Weekly A- 13/1/2006 Henry Goldblatt
Forbes A 6/1/2006 Michael Maiello
The LA Times . 6/3/2006 Anne Boles Levy
The NY Times A 6/2/2006 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 19/2/2006 Douglas Coupland
Sydney Morning Herald . 23/3/2007 Tim Howard
The Washington Post B+ 19/2/2006 Stanley Bing


  Review Consensus:

  A few reservations, but everybody loves it .....

  From the Reviews:
  • "The beauty of Company is that it really is gasp-inducingly recognisable. The characters, the mindless filing, idiotic management decisions and paper trails leading Jones and his suspicions to a far more bizarre scenario than he ever could have imagined. (...) He has a lovely turn of phrase and quite a British sense of humour -- why he chose to set this novel in New York is slightly mystifying. Marieke Hardy, The Age" -

  • "To divulge this plot twist might give away too much; but rest assured, management types will double over laughing. Project Alpha drives the novel, leaving the ending a bit flat. But no matter: Mr Barry's real strength is artful prose and dialogue. He is a master of short sentences and the passive tense, both of which do much to convey his characters' self-importance." - The Economist

  • "It's that twist that saves Barry's third novel from becoming as drab as the office he describes and establishes him as one of the keenest and shrewdest minds in corporate satire. Rarely has a novelist borrowed from so many sources yet come up with something so utterly original." - Henry Goldblatt, Entertainment Weekly

  • "With the release of Company, Australian novelist Max Barry establishes himself as fiction's most insightful and devilish satirist of corporate culture. If you're reading a management book right now, any management book, even an old collection of essays by the late Peter Drucker, put it down and get this book instead. The other stuff can wait. Indeed, after reading Barry's story about Zephyr Holdings, a major, multinational corporation with operations so complex and a mission statement so devoid of meaning that not even the company's employees know what the company does, you'll read all of those "how to" management books with new eyes." - Michael Maiello, Forbes

  • "Barry's sarcasm is so tart and his aim so deadly, a few rough patches can be forgiven, especially when he zings corporate neuroses. (...) Barry writes in the present tense, which in less adept hands would come across as affectation. Instead it's like reading one of those management texts that allegedly reveals how the business world really works, but with the gloves off." - Anne Boles Levy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(H)ilarious (.....) Joseph Heller did it better, but not by much. (...) Company is Mr. Barry's break-out book. (...) Occasionally, Company is flimsy (.....) But Mr. Barry is a deft and focused satirist, and his sense of business ethics is right on the money." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "Barry simply doesn't provide a standardized fiction experience. Instead, he gives us something altogether different, a sort of text-based algebraic antilogic equation -- one in which the square root of J. G. Ballard is divided by Monty Python, then raised to the power of Joseph Heller, plus or minus, well, uh ... Douglas Coupland (...) Company is smart and fast paced. The characters aren't fully people -- you knew that going in -- and the necessary cynicism underlying the book may turn off some readers. Their loss." - Douglas Coupland, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Barry certainly has a lot of fun with this scenario; whether the reader responds in kind will depend, inevitably, on his or her sense of humour. There are some excellent paragraphs in Company, bristling denunciations of corporate cruelty that clearly stem from the author's own observations. Alas Barry can't maintain the rage and Company is often not so much angry as it is ironic or meaningful, modes in which sledgehammer satire can't help but feel unwieldy." - Tim Howard, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "(A)n extremely funny, superbly observed take on organizational life. Its author, Max Barry, is a hilarious young Australian (.....) In many spots, Company is laugh-out-loud funny, its humor driven by all the pleasure that a true shock of recognition can bring. What the book doesn't have is much heart. (...) In the end, this lack of people we should root for makes Company problematic and not wholly satisfying." - Stanley Bing, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Company is an office-novel, a take on life in the modern American corporation (and on the management fads that influence how they are run). The story centres around Stephen Jones, hired by Zephyr Holdings, Inc. as an assistant in the Training Sales department (where they sell training courses). Jones' first mistake (besides taking the job) is that he is too curious about what exactly Zephyr does. It seems absolutely no one has the foggiest idea about what the company actually manufactures or sells -- which doesn't prevent it from being almost exactly like any other faceless mass-employer of office-workers -- but Jones is determined to find out.
       He does, and that makes for the decent premise Barry offers. It would spoil part of the fun -- perhaps the only fun in the novel, actually -- to reveal the exact twist, but it doesn't come as too great a surprise that there is both less and more to Zephyr than first meets the eye (and that most of the employees are aware of).
       Even to the employees, Zephyr must seem a bit out of the ordinary. As someone points out to Jones early on: "The thing is, there's plenty about Zephyr that makes no sense." Certainly, they have their own, often unique style there. The numbering of the floors in the elevator is in reverse order (so the lowest on the totem pole, the bottom floors, have the highest numbers, while the top-floor CEO is on floor 1 (which also offers a clever twist, when Jones makes it up there)). Human Resources proves to be a faceless intimidating pit -- but that doesn't matter, because essentially no one who visits there ever makes it back except to be escorted off the premises.
       Jones should realise that things are done differently here when he learns that he's on the books as copy paper (so they can process his salary as an expense) and someone gets fired over eating a donut. Cutting corners, creative accounting, and consolidation seem to be the main names of the current game. Indeed, when Jones arrives there's a panicked attempt to talk customers out of purchasing the training sessions they've committed to (which, of course, leads to a run on them) -- since success is often measured in peculiar ways at Zephyr.
       The Marketing division is downsizing as far down as it gets -- the savings in expenses apparently makes that worthwhile -- and it's only when the consequences of firing the whole Information Technology division affect everyone that maybe management realises that was not the ideal solution. But management at Zephyr doesn't really seem to be about solutions. Downsizing, saving, consolidation, and extreme situations are the everyday events, and the company spirals into ever-more absurd situations.
       This is where the fun should be, in office-life shown at its extremes. But it's not very funny. Worse, it's not realistic. Satire means excess, but without some grounding in reality it loses all its power, and the management techniques in play here too often don't make sense -- i.e. the maths don't add up. Cost-savings are only useful if they are real cost-savings, and much more often than not they aren't here. Arguably, the corporate behemoth can take on a mind of its own, and often doesn't allow for sensible cost-savings or behaviour -- but Barry has cut himself off from that route: the whole purpose of the Zephyr exercise is to be a paradigm of corporate success, and that still means the bottom line. There is no bottom line in Company, and almost no accounting, and that's a big problem for the novel.
       Barry's focus is on the human face -- which the corporate world is (so the standard stereotype) so often blind and deaf to. Employees are human, and he wants to show that they deserve to be treated with respect and listened to, while Zephyr -- representative of corporate America -- believes: "The problem with employees, you see, is everything." Unfortunately, his cardboard characters don't have that much life in them either; in fact, Barry is by far at his best when he treats them as office-cogs, playing along in that machinery, rather than as anything approaching 'human'. It's hard to believe that anybody could be convinced by the moral of this story, feel-good though it may be.
       Company is surprisingly dull, with Barry unable or unwilling to truly indulge in absurdist corporate fun with all its potential. (But the absurdist attempts he makes -- the donut witch-hunt -- aren't impressive either.) His hero is much too soft-hearted, and the human interaction ... well, not very human. When Barry lets go -- a lecture on ethics by one of the bad guys (or rather: gals) -- there are some worthwhile nuggets, but overall he treads much too lightly.
       To see how corporate and management technique satire should and can be done, read Lydie Salvayre's The Award, which is several leagues above this. Company is readable, but overall quite disappointing.

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Links:

Company: Reviews: Max(x) Barry: Other books by Max/Maxx Barry under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Max Barry lives in Australia. A marketing professional, he has taught at Monash and Curtin universities in Australia.

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© 2006-2013 the complete review

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