On Magnus Mills

[posted by Greg]

We haven’t written much about the English author Magnus Mills, even though he is among the leading contemporary novelists whose writing could be considered irreal. We hope to change this situation soon, perhaps using as an inspiration the several days we spent in London on our way to Prague this year and the chance it gave us to buy two  books by Mills that are not available in the United States, the novel, The Maintenance of Headway, (published in the UK in 2009) and a short story collection, Screwtop Thompson (2010).

Despite our interest in Mills, The Maintenance of Headway isn’t likely to figure in our discussion of his irrealism. Though it is a fine novel, and certainly an excellent read for someone who has just travelled extensively around London by bus, it is probably the least irreal of his works. This is not to suggest, however, that Mills has embraced the mainstream of literary realism. The work has all the spareness of description, distanced narration, and exclusivity of focus that we would expect from him. But unlike the Restraint of Beasts, Three to See the King, or A Scheme for Full Employment (which we might well call a “social irrealist” novel), there is nothing in this novel that couldn’t happen in our currently existing reality. The ending — which articulates the difficulties that the characters at the bus company have in reconciling the theory and practice of maintaining headway — points us toward a very particular, albeit universal, meaning.