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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Scheme for Full Employment

Magnus Mills

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To purchase The Scheme for Full Employment

Title: The Scheme for Full Employment
Author: Magnus Mills
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 234 pages
Availability: The Scheme for Full Employment - US
The Scheme for Full Employment - UK
The Scheme for Full Employment - Canada
The Scheme for Full Employment - India
Ganze Arbeit - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : decent trifle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 22/2/2003 William Leith
Entertainment Weekly B- 3/1/2003 Gregory Kirschling
The Guardian . 1/3/2003 Terry Eagleton
The Independent . 1/3/2003 Brandon Robshaw
London Rev.of Books . 6/11/2003 Leo Benedictus
The NY Times Book Rev. . 29/12/2002 Alix Wilber
The Observer . 23/2/2003 David Jays
San Francisco Chronicle . 29/12/2002 David Kipen
Sunday Telegraph . 23/2/2003 Caroline Moore
The Times A 1/3/2003 Chris Power
TLS . 7/3/2003 Sean O'Brien

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus. Some very enthusiastic, some bored.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his story is a lovely satire about bureaucracy, about what happens when people spend as much time documenting their productivity as actually producing things. After a while, something is bound to give. (,,,) Mills is subtle, but he's sharp. This is writing that works on your imagination." - William Leith, Daily Telegraph

  • "Mills (...) runs capitalist utopia through a hamster wheel, crafting a wry tale just a bit too subtle and straight; it might've broken more of a sweat." - Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly

  • "There are no grotesque eruptions of violence, and few of his famous Kafkaesque subcurrents. (...) The book reads like a stripped-down version of the author's already minimalist fictions; a faded, mechanical blue-print of what he usually does so brilliantly." - Terry Eagleton, The Guardian

  • "Mills is primarily a comic writer and the appeal of this novel lies in his loving concern with tea and sandwiches, the strange atmosphere of cosiness and rivalry, the bathetic descriptions of the banal (...) The allegorical possibilities lend another layer to the story, but are no more necessary to appreciation than it's necessary to know that Wodehouse's Spode is a caricature of Oswald Mosley." - Brandon Robshaw, The Independent

  • "The Scheme for Full Employment, Magnus Mills’s strange dystopian parable of blue-collar bureaucracy in haulage depots, is more realistic than you might think. (...) No one has any character and there is no inner life to be detected. Mills has restricted himself to primary emotions and motivations – even the title is especially flat. Like the facsimile roadmap and worksheet which precede the narrative, the world here is schematic, a fully functioning but lifeless machine." - Leo Benedictus, London Review of Books

  • "In theory, Mills has created a fertile source of satire. Regrettably, The Scheme for Full Employment is neither particularly satirical nor particularly entertaining, since the banality of the labor has infected the language Mills uses to describe it" - Alix Wilber, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This beguiling fable returns Mills to the ordinariness of working life, a retreat after the parable of cults and tin houses in Three to See the King." - David Jays, The Observer

  • "(H)is sly yet slender new absurdist satire about the irresolvable foolishness of the working world (.....) (I)t's in this department -- staying power, durability -- that The Scheme for Full Employment comes up a little underweight." - David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The sealed world of the workplace, with its arcana of dodges and dockets, scams and union-speak, is still brilliantly caught: locally, Mills retains all his surreal mundanity, and often made me laugh out loud. Yet, in this more limited allegory, devoid of any sense of overarching darkness, perhaps Mills's characteristic flat humour is not quite enough." - Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph

  • "A menace runs through it that is wholly commensurate with the first two novels and, while its conclusion seems at first to be a shade gentler than the deeply pessimistic endings of those books, it would seem, on reflection, that once again Mills is delineating a sickness at the heart of society. Indeed, he may well have written the world’s first gently humorous anarchist manifesto. But alongside the humour Mills’s writing remains deftly unsettling." - Chris Power, The Times

  • "While Magnus Mills seems at times to be offering a disguised and highly accomplished saloon bar disquisition on What's Wrong With the Workers, his story has enough areas of opacity to seem eerie as well as glum." - Sean O'Brien, Times LIterary Supplement

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:

       The Scheme for Full Employment refers to a model business plan. For three decades it ran successfully on the British isle: "the envy of the world: the greatest undertaking ever conceived by man." But, as the opening pages of the novel already reveal, "in this country we managed to destroy it." And Mills' novel tells how.
       The Scheme is a make-work project. UniVans drive from depot to depot, picking up and unloading cargo. The cargo ? Spare parts for UniVans. All this activity doesn't contribute much to the economy, but it does employ a great many people and thus does serve a function. "It's self-perpetuating (...) and it keeps us all in work."
       The Scheme for Full Employment is narrated by a nameless UniVan driver. He describes the day-to-day routines, breaks in a new hire, goes on a special assignment (timed test runs to a depot being integrated into the network). He knows The Scheme isn't the most sensible use of labour and resources, but he is an admirer of the smooth-flowing system He even sees it as pillar of society, something to believe and trust in (akin, perhaps, to public transport or the postal service -- though most citizens get a lot more out of these). And he isn't alone: there are even "enthusiasts" -- sort of UniVan-trainspotters, who take down the UV numbers and the like.
       Despite the brilliance of the scheme, all is not well. One colleague seems more obsessed with using the system to deliver cakes. More significantly, there is a rift between the flat-dayers, who believe the eight-hour work-day is the gold standard that must be adhered to if the system is to run properly, and the swervers, who believe working hours should be more flexible, dependant on what needs getting done and when it could be done.
       The row over the schism escalates, culminating in a strike -- where the UniVan employees, counting on public support, suddenly realise the true worth of The Scheme (yes, that would be: zero).
       Mills has good fun with bureaucracy and worker/supervisor politics. It's a gentle satire on the workplace scene -- and no less absurd than many of the jobs his readers might while their days away at.
       "Eight hours' work for eight hours' pay: that was the deal, and everyone agreed it was fair." The absurdity to it, and the sheer waste, don't trouble anyone too much until the strike leads them to consider it again. "The Scheme depended above all else on appearances", and once those get muddied it's clear that it can't survive.
       In a decent closing touch, Mills has The Scheme pretty much hoisted by its own petard.

       The Scheme for Full Employment is a slight book. Very little happens, and there isn't much to the characters. Still, Mills does capture the workplace atmosphere very well, and he does a good job of keeping the real world at bay (almost nothing of the world outside The Scheme is revealed, not even that narrator's domestic life). A bit more substance and analysis would have been welcome, though one understands why Mills presents it in this anodyne way. The novel is a modest entertainment -- but that in the best senses of the words.

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The Scheme for Full Employment: Reviews: Magnus Mills: Other books by Magnus Mills under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of contemporary British fiction under review

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About the Author:

       British author Magnus Mills was born in 1954. He has written several novels.

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© 2003-2012 the complete review

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