The Camper Who Stayed.

All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

This is another black comedy of the highest order from a master of novels about men and their work.  It’s Mills’ second book, the third I’ve read, and the best yet for me. 

We meet a man and his motorcycle, who are camping in the Lake District as a prelude to going off the India. It’s just about the end of the season, and our chap is in no hurry to get going on his road trip, so when the campsite owner, Tommy Parker, offers him some odd jobs, he’s happy to oblige. The local store owner runs out of baked beans, and won’t restock which is irksome, but he does get accepted into the darts team at the local pub, which then runs out of draught ale.  The simple jobs he does all turn out to be marathon tasks, and he’s warned about Tommy’s temper.  Meanwhile, nobody ever exchanges any money – there’s no sign of any cash coming from Tommy and his tabs are racking up – but he doesn’t like to make a fuss.  The milkman is also going mad, and everyone seems to think our narrator would be good for the job – why?  He can’t understand it, he’s helplessly trapped by his own helpfulness!

What Mills does so well is to take the ordinary, everyday slog and dissect it.  He pares work down to the barest actions and motives.  No-one is deliberately bad, indeed, their intentions are mostly good. It’s just the roundabout ways in which people do things obscure why they’re doing it ensuring that everything gets over-complicated, and this leads to confusion. Add a good dose of ‘You’re not from round these parts’ suspicion, the difficulties of getting around the terrain in winter, and the shenanigans of countrymen, (for womenfolk barely put in an appearance), and you’re bound to get events spiralling out of control into broad farce with sinister overtones.

Brilliant – I must read all his others.  (10/10)
I bought this book. 

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All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

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8 thoughts on “The Camper Who Stayed.

  1. My first Mills and still my favourite. The undertones of sinister stuff, the passive-aggressive locals, the Lolita who wants him to help her with her homework in the hayloft – so much remains fresh in my memory ten years or so after I first read this book. I remember the blurb from the first edition which described the book as one where “a man spills a tin of green paint, and thereby condemns himself to death”.

    I have Mills’ new collection of stories (actually two old collections with a few new stories thrown in) to read, which I’m looking forward to.

    • gaskella says:

      The green paint spill is a defining moment! I loved how dark this one was – real ‘League of Gentlemen’ stuff but with more scary with ordinary folk.

      I’m not deliberately rationing myself to one Mills per year, but they are perfect for me to get me back into reading after a slump. I haven’t chuckled so much (with anticipation as much as in reaction) for ages.

  2. I am very new to Mills but I thought his book Maintenance of Headway was absolutely brilliant and am very keen to read many more of his books, this one sounds brilliant and ten out of ten books are hard to find so this one I will have to try!

  3. I ve read all apart from his new novel am huge mills fan ,just love his abilityto take normal situations and turn them in to wild bizarre adventures ,he is a true one off ,glad you loved it ,all the best stu

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