Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time Synopsis :
Dan’s got a new job. But he’s moved out of town in order to start a family and had to start commuting into the city every day, leaving his young wife Beth and newborn daughter at home. After 14 months of the trains either making him late for work or late getting home, he’s had enough. Tracking down the email address of the train company’s director, he starts to write him letters. Emails that take as long to write as the delay to his journey has been. If his time’s been wasted, why shouldn’t he waste the director’s? And so begins a hilarious and extraordinary correspondence.
When the director begins to write back, Dan finds himself with a dysfunctional father confessor to talk to — one who he never imagined would care. In truth, he probably doesn’t. But Dan finds solace in opening up to a stranger about the dramas of his day job at a scandal-hit newspaper, the challenges of his night job as the father of a baby who isn’t sleeping, and about life as it is played out in the confines of Coach C, while world events pass by its odd mix of inhabitants.
Dominic Utton’s oddly named debut novel Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time is a great concept, one inspired by the popularity of a blog “Letters to First Great Western“. And, the letters on that blog are apparently real communications between the author and the train company he used the services of – emails of complaint at 100 words for every minute his train was delayed. The author explains how a late train became a novel in this Daily Beast article.
I initially felt sympathy for Utton’s frustrated protagonist Dan, and was entertained by his pithy observations about the goings on around him. After a while though, the intentionally rambling and snarky tone of the correspondence really began to grate on me, as did Dan’s self-sabotaging behaviour.
What kept me reading? Utton’s ensemble characters, Dan’s fellow rail passengers and his workmates at The Globe were colourful and rather amusing. I also enjoyed Martin Harbottle’s avuncular responses to the barrage of criticism.
While I found the plot twists a little predictable, I admired the story arc in Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time, one of personal growth for our protagonist. The lessons underpinning Utton’s tale – that revenge or “getting even” can rarely yield anything more than pyrrhic victories, and the perils of narrow-minded thinking – are important ones.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 2.5 / 5
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Genre: Humour, Drama
Dominic Utton is a journalist and author of fifteen years’ experience. After going freelance from the Daily and Sunday Express in 2001 he has written for newspapers including the Guardian, Sunday Times, Daily Mail, and Mirror, as well as magazines including Cosmopolitan, Elle, Maxim, Zoo, and many more. He lives in Oxford and currently commutes to London six days a week.
* My receiving a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.